PLAS applies to join public school athletics
Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, January 19, 2022
The Pike Liberal Arts School Board of Trustees unanimously voted to submit an application to change its athletic affiliation to the Alabama High School Athletic Association from the Alabama Independent Schools Association.
Board of Trustees President John Ramage said becoming associated with the AHSAA wasn’t a new idea.
“The first time I heard it mentioned was from my father [Jimmy Ramage],” Ramage said. “That was back in 1986 after Pike was reclassified as AAA. There’s been some discussion about it over the past 35 years. About 10 years ago, the board was ready to apply, but the AHSAA was in the process of expanding to 7A, so the timing wasn’t right.”
Ramage said the board looked toward the future of the school’s athletic program and felt it was time to make an application to the AHSAA. Ramage went on to say the move to the AHSAA wouldn’t affect anything except athletic programs.
“We’ll still be AISA academically,” Ramage said. “So, we’ll maintain our independence. There are about 50 schools in the AISA that don’t play athletics. So, we’ll remain an AISA school academically, but we’ll change our athletic affiliation to the AHSAA. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the AISA, but we’re looking forward to the future in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.”
Ramage said Pike’s application will have to be approved by the Alabama High School Athletics Association. He said there was a process the school would have to go through – including site visits and inspection of the athletic facilities – before the AHSAA would consider Pike’s application.
Ramage said the best case scenario was that the AHSAA would consider and approve Pike’s application in April. Ramage said if the application was approved, the school would cease its affiliation with the ASIA in June and become a member of the AHSAA. Ramage said if Pike were accepted in June, the Patriot teams could begin playing AHSAA schedules in the fall.
“The AHSAA just realigned its regions and areas, so we missed the deadline for football to be included in the realignment,” Ramage said. “We’ll be able to play in the AHSAA beginning in the fall of 2022, but we won’t be eligible for the football playoffs until 2024 when the AHSAA realigns schools again.
“In the south, football is king, so the schedules have been set. But, the other sports are more flexible with their scheduling, so Pike will be eligible to make the playoffs in all other sports beginning in the fall.”
Ramage said what classification and region the Patriots would be assigned to would be up to the AHSAA.
“We feel pretty confident we’ll be classified as a Class 2A school because of the multiplier the AHSAA uses for private schools,” Ramage said. “But, we don’t know what area they’ll put us in. We’re kind of in the middle of two other areas (Class 2A Region 2 and Region 3), so we don’t know where they would decide to assign us.”
Pike Liberal Arts School Headmaster Eric Burkett said the board of trustees spent more than a year taking a serious look at making the switch from the AISA to the AHSAA. Burkett went on to say Tuesday night’s decision to apply to the AHSAA was just the beginning of the process.
“In the long run, I feel like this will benefit our school in a number of ways,” Burkett said. “There were a lot of reasons for us looking into making an application. That was why we looked at it for such a long time. I just want to reiterate this is not the end of the process. This is just the beginning. There are a lot of steps we have to follow [before PLAS’s application is accepted].
Burkett said one of the major reasons the board began looking at transitioning to the AHSAA was because of travel times as well as scheduling.
“With our schedules in varsity, JV and peewee, our teams may have to travel to the other end of the state on a Tuesday night,” Burkett said. “Scheduling is also difficult. In our region in softball, we have three teams Valiant Cross, Success Unlimited and us. Valiant Cross is an all boys school and Success Unlimited doesn’t field a softball team. In the AISA, you have to play the teams in your region. After that, it’s up to the coaches to make the schedule and that can be very difficult.”
According to the AISA’s website, Pike Liberal is classified as a AAA school – a division with only 11 member schools fielding football teams.
During the 2021 season, the Patriots played a 13 game schedule en route to winning the AISA AAA State Championship.
On the way to claiming back-to-back state titles, the Patriots only had to hit the road four times during the season. Pike traveled to Hooper Academy, Lee-Scott Academy, Edgewood Academy, Glenwood School and the state championship game at Crampton Bowl in Montgomery. Pike had a fifth road game with Crenshaw Christian that was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The road games totaled only 360 miles for the season (including the cancelled trip to Crenshaw Christian). But, the Patriot’s eight opponents opponents had to travel 781 miles. Tossing in the cancelled game, the total number of miles teams had to travel during the Patriots 2021 football campaign totaled up to 2,330 miles and about 41 hours and 46 minutes round trip.
According to downsize.com, a school bus averages about 12.3 miles per gallon. In 2021, the average price for a gallon of diesel was about $3.42 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That put the fuel cost at roughly $650 for travel for the season.
“Travel in the AISA is a huge problem,” Ramage said. “In football, we have to travel to Auburn (Lee-Scott Academy) and Smith’s Station (Glenwood Academy). If you want to play competitively out of region, you have to travel to Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa Academy) and Bessemer (Bessemer Academy).”
Ramage said since he first heard mention of playing in the ASHAA from his father in 1986, a lot has changed in the AISA. Nearby schools, such as Bullock Academy (Union Springs), Dixie Academy (Louisville) and South Montgomery Academy (Grady) closed due to falling enrollment and many other schools changed their athletic affiliation to the ASHAA. Ramage said those changes had made scheduling more difficult and reduced the number of nearby rivalries. Ramage said the scheduling problems also affected every sports team the school fielded, not just football.
Last year, Pike’s basketball teams – boys and girls JV and varsity – included 12 road games on the schedule. The Patriots logged about 1,720 miles for the hoops season, the softball team had 2,230 miles to travel, the baseball team racked up 2,048 miles and the Patriot’s volleyball team hit the road for 1,124 miles on the season.
Ramage said all the travel took a toll on the teams, the parents and the student’s time in the classroom.
“My daughter plays volleyball for Pike,” Ramage said. “This year we had to travel three hours to Atmore for a match that lasted about 20 minutes and then travel three hours back home. That was six hours of travel for 20 minutes of game time. With football, its easier to handle because that’s on Friday night and you have the weekend. But, for games on Tuesday night, that can be hard on the parents. It’s also hard on teachers because the travel time also takes away from the students’ time in the classroom. It can make for a long week for everybody.”
Ramage said the Patriots have also been successful on the athletic field over the last few years, including winning state championships in football, basketball and baseball in 2021. He said that success had also come at a cost when scheduling.
“We’ve had a lot of success the last few years,” Ramage said. “Because of that success, a lot of teams don’t want to play us. We have one of the best basketball teams we’ve ever fielded this year and they’ve had to play five games in Florida this year. With baseball, we want to plan an ultra-competitive schedule and we’re having to go to Mississippi and Georgia to schedule opponents.”
Pike Liberal Arts has won the last three baseball state championships, the past two football state championships and last year’s basketball state championship and the basketball team is currently ranked No. 1 in the state in AISA AAA.
Pike Liberal Arts Athletic Director Rush Hixon said scheduling had been a tough for the Patriots.
“It’s really been challenging over the past two years,” Hixon said. “Over the last two years, it’s been hard to fill a competitive schedule in close proximity to the school. That’s why we’ve branched out to other states for the competition.”
Hixon said Pike should know by April 18 whether or not the school’s application into the ASHAA has been accepted. He said Pike filed its paperwork today and the AHSAA will have to make a site visit and then confirm that Pike is a fit for athletic competition in the ASHAA. He said the ASHAA will meet on April 18, and he’s hopeful the Patriots’ application will be approved. He said if it is approved, Pike will become a member of the AHSAA in June. He said once that process is complete, the school can start addressing schedules for all sports except football.
“[With football] We’ve put out some feelers,” Hixon said. “We’ve reached to to some schools that have open dates. They can’t sign a contract until our application is approved. But, I’ve got a feeling our football schedule will be one of the more competitive schedules we have played.
“There’s a lot more flexibility with other sports because the AHSAA hasn’t realigned the regions for those sports yet. I expect Pike to be 2A, I feel confident we will be 2A. There are a lot of quality 2A teams that are in close proximity to us to be able to fill a competitive schedule.”
Burkett said, if approved, the shift to the AHSAA would not only make scheduling easier and save money by cutting down on the cost of travel, it could also have an economic impact at the gate because Pike hosting teams closer in proximity, making it easier for parents, fans and classmates to travel.
On Wednesday afternoon. Hixon talked with Pike’s student athletes about the school’s intent to join the AHSAA.
“I thought the meeting went pretty well,” Hixon said. “I explained to them about the application and the potential move to the Alabama High School Athletic Association. When I first told the students, I think there was some confusion and concerns, but there was also a lot of curiosity. I explained all the details and answered questions. When we finished up, I think there was a lot of excitement from the students about the potential move to the AHSAA.”