It was nice while it lasted.
The luxury of having all of Cabarrus County's high schools playing in the same athletic conference - something local school leaders began pleading for years ago - appears to be ending in 2013 after a short four-year run.
The state high school athletic association announced a plan last month that would split Cabarrus County's nine schools into three different conferences in the next realignment.
Very little can be done to prevent it, because three schools - Kannapolis A.L. Brown, Concord Jay M. Robinson and Mount Pleasant - will be moving to different classifications as their enrollment numbers have changed.
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So the most important questions will have to do with how schools will deal with the potential loss in gate revenues, compensate for likely increases in travel expenses and secure intra-county rivalries. All those things were made easy for administrators and coaches when the last realignment in 2009 created the all-Cabarrus conference.
Every four years
The state athletic association realigns conferences every four years. Traditionally, most Cabarrus County schools have been classified as 3A, but at least one is usually classified differently.
Before the 2009 realignment, Mount Pleasant was a 2A school, and Central Cabarrus and Robinson competed at the 4A level. From 2001 to 2009, even the county's 3A schools were split between two separate conferences: the South Piedmont and the North Piedmont.
Then 2 1/2 years ago, local coaches and fans virtually salivated with anticipation when Cabarrus County schools notified the N.C. High School Athletic Association that it would be reassigning students from some of its schools to others so that all seven high schools would have 3A-level enrollment numbers.
The NCHSAA obliged by placing the Cabarrus County schools, along with traditional rival Kannapolis Brown (which was already competing in 3A) in the same conference.
The reassignment of students, however, never took place, and Mount Pleasant and Robinson were left with their 2A and 4A enrollments, respectively. The state was willing to allow the two schools to move into their natural classification after two years, but both chose to stay in 3A.
Now the NCHSAA staff has proposed a plan for the 2013 realignment that would put Central Cabarrus, Concord, Cox Mill, Hickory Ridge and Northwest Cabarrus in a conference with China Grove Carson, East Rowan, South Rowan and West Rowan.
In 2A, Mount Pleasant would be matched with West Stanly and four Union County schools. Brown and Robinson would be placed with five schools from northern Mecklenburg County.
"We certainly like to be traveling less," Mount Pleasant athletic director Philip Furr said of the all-Cabarrus conference. "(The new alignment) will hurt us financially. Competition-wise, I think the coaches are excited getting back to playing 2A competition. (But) there are a few that like the way it is now."
Local athletic directors undoubtedly will face lower gate receipts as their teams play conference games against teams that are not geographical rivals. Schools pay the bill to bus athletes to games, matches and meets, so conference trips out of the county will almost certainly cost more.
Schools' officials are already thinking about scheduling their conference games. A priority for Concord and Kannapolis is scheduling their annual "Bell Game" in football.
If Concord becomes a member of a nine-team conference, that will leave only two or three Fridays that will be available to schedule the rivalry game, North Carolina's oldest continuous one at more than 70 years.
Brown's and Robinson's biggest challenge may be competing against schools with enrollments almost twice as large as theirs.
A.L. Brown, at 1,415 students, and Robinson, with 1,422, are two of the three smallest in all of 4A. Their largest conference foe, Charlotte Mallard Creek, has about 800 more students than that.
But Charlotte's Myers Park, with which Brown or Robinson might compete in state tournaments, has more than 2,800 students enrolled.
The NCHSAA, which is trying to avoid conferences split between two classifications, will release its final plan for realignment in May.