The Massaponax football team opens the upcoming season with three straight Virginia High School League opponents.
But the Panthers can’t help but divert some of their attention to the fourth game of the season.
Veteran head coach Eric Ludden would never overlook Chancellor, Dinwiddie or Louisa, but he’s already making travel preparations for a Sept. 20 trip to Lansdowne, Pa., to take on Penn Wood.
As Massaponax’s enrollment ballooned to nearly 2,000 students, Spotsylvania County rival Courtland dropped the Panthers from its schedule prior to the 2016 school year after suffering eight straight losses in the series.
Spotsylvania High did the same after the 2010 season that capped a three-year run in which the Panthers outscored the Knights 175–13.
Without two county schools on the schedule, the Panthers had to get creative.
“Whenever you have to find games,” Ludden said, “it’s always a challenge.”
That challenge may get a little easier for the Panthers as other county schools now see a more level playing field. But the issue is two-sided.
After Spotsylvania County realigned four of its five high schools, Massaponax has seen its enrollment drop, while Chancellor, Courtland and Spotsylvania have seen an increase.
Courtland athletic director Ronnie Lowman said the Cougars are considering adding Massaponax again in two years after the current scheduling cycle expires.
The downside for Massaponax is that for at least two years it is now forced to compete in Class 6—the largest classification in the VHSL—with an enrollment of approximately 1,600 students, making it the eighth-least populated school even had it remained in Class 5.
At least nine Class 6 schools have 1,000 more students than Massaponax’s projected enrollment.
“I don’t know that it’s unprecedented,” Ludden said. “Sometimes it goes the other way where some teams are in a lower division, they get a lot of enrollment and they stay with it. We’ll have our challenges no matter what. I think on the surface, it looks a little weird that our enrollment went down, but we went up to [Class 6] but we’re not really making a big deal out of it.”
Courtland will be the primary beneficiary of Massaponax’s downsizing.
The school has added approximately 300 students and has gone from the fourth-lowest enrollment in Class 4 (1,158) to the 13th highest (1,450).
Lowman noted the athletic rewards might not come right away because upperclassmen had the option of remaining with their original school.
Courtland football coach J.C. Hall said the Cougars’ varsity only picked up two Massaponax transfers. The junior varsity has as many as seven.
The Courtland boys basketball team will get a boost from the addition of all-Commonwealth District senior guard Khai Seargeant from Massaponax. Cougars head coach Eric Davis said three other former Panthers—twin forwards Raejon and Robert Harvey and guard Brandon Hilliard—will also be welcome additions to the basketball team.
Lowman said because of the increase in enrollment the Cougars are exploring adding boys and girls lacrosse as varsity sports for the first time. Massaponax has offered lacrosse for several years.
Lowman said the Cougars should know by the start of the winter sports season in late November if they’re going to offer lacrosse in the spring.
“If there’s enough interest, we’ll roll right into it as a VHSL sport,” Lowman said. “We’re prepared to do it. Each year you have to submit a list to the league and we included [lacrosse] in our list, so we’d be out in front of it if we had enough interest.”
Riverbend went untouched by the county’s redistricting plan and remains in Class 6 with approximately 1,950 students.
Spotsylvania has moved from Class 3 to Class 4. The VHSL had estimated before redistricting that the Knights would have the third-smallest Class 4 school with 1,153 students. But they were projected to add 139 students after the reshuffling and are now in the middle of the pack of Class 4 programs.
Chancellor has jumped from 1,292 students to the top 20 of Class 4 with 1,384. Chargers athletic director Len Carlson said the school was expecting 40-50 more freshmen than last year on its first day Monday.
The third-year Chancellor AD said he likes the new alignment in the county. He noted that previously the enrollment was so unbalanced the five schools were in four different classifications.
“I do like that most of are 4s right now,” Carlson said. “It’s just simpler. Spotsy [High] is in the same region with us, so it makes our regular season competitions with them mean a little bit more. I would like it better if we were all 4s or 5s because it adds another level of meaning to the game.”
Massaponax does have an escape route from Class 6. VHSL spokesman Mike McCall said although the current reclassification model isn’t set to expire until 2023, schools can file appeals after two years. The Panthers would have to submit their projected enrollment for the 2021–22 school-year and if it’s less than the Class 6 cutoff (approximately 1,950 this cycle), they can drop to Class 5.
By then they could be once again squaring off with Courtland on the gridiron. But for now, Ludden and his staff are finalizing the team’s itinerary, booking a charter bus and gearing up for their trip to Pennsylvania next month.
It’s not the type of travel the Panthers want to get accustomed to. But for one season, the Panthers are looking forward to it.
“I think it’ll be a fun experience for our players,” Ludden said. “They’re really excited about it.”