BY WIL CREWS
The calendar has turned to August, and with it, attention turns to football season.
Just as the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has worked through the pandemic, re-classification and other challenges in the past few years, the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) and its athletic association has navigated the same difficult circumstances.
Just as East Alabama serves as a premier location for upper-echelon public high school football, its schools within the AISA hold similar prominence in the sports world.
AISA Athletic Director Roddie Beck spoke about the current state of the AISA at July’s East Alabama High School Media Days, giving insight into the status of the organization and how some recent changes may affect area teams.
The biggest change that 2022 brings to the AISA is the integration of 8-man football. In total, six schools with teams are registered, but Beck said the need was so apparent that the AISA would have started the 8-man league with even fewer.
“This is something we have discussed the past few years,” he said. “If we would have started with four, we would have played a championship. We believe in servicing all our athletes. This is a need.”
Beck further explained that the decision to expand to facilitate 8-man football was made because of the draw that football brings. Beck cited certain cases where the breakdown of a football program has resulted in the closing of schools entirely.
“Football is the bell cow; there is no way around it,” Beck said. “We have had some schools that have closed because of losing a football program. We feel like this is a good opportunity for us.”
With just six teams registered to play, Beck and the AISA are allowing the schools to schedule teams outside the association.
“Whether it be the Christian league or the panhandle league –– that gives them the opportunity to have a full schedule,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”
Beck said the long-term plan with 8-man football teams would be to eventually build back up the school’s enrollment number and reintegrate the teams into the 11-man classifications. Until then, the 8-man league will be treated with the same importance as the three classifications of 11-man football.
“We feel like it’s a good opportunity for all of our athletes,” Beck said. “We want them all to have a positive experience. We are going to treat this championship game like all of our 1A, 2A and 3A championship games.”
In addition to the integration of 8-man football, Beck expressed his excitement at the continuation of the AISA’s partnership with Southeaster Commission of Independent Schools’ (SECIS) Association in putting on the fifth annual Kickoff Classic.
The SECIS is composed of the AISA, the Georgia Independent School Association, the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools and the South Carolina Independent School Association. The organization held its first sports event in the spring of 2016 with a golf tournament.
While the football kickoff classic has typically been held at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, the city’s disinterest in the event resulted in a move away from that venue. This year, the event will be held at West Georgia College.
Chambers Academy and Escambia Academy will represent the AISA for football. Macon East and Glenwood will represent for volleyball.
“It’s just great for our student athletes to be able to experience something like that,” Beck said. “We enjoy that, and hopefully it will grow to other sports as well.”
Beck also talked about the AISA’s relationship with AHSAA, and the possibility of blending the two organizations more for potential benefits like regional rivalries or the reduction of travel costs.
“AHSAA and AISA have a great relationship,” Beck said. “We are looking at rivalries that could be made at local areas. That’s basically what we were trying to accomplish. We have met with [AHSAA Executive Director] Briggs and his staff within the past year and discussed some of those things maybe happening. We have not come to an agreement.
“We’re not thinking that Lee-Scott or Glenwood are going to go out and play Auburn and Opelika in football. But, it would help junior high programs, too, with travel and so forth.”
Lastly, Beck piggybacked off the idea of working with the AHSAA more to discuss the potential of removing some classification guidelines within the AISA itself. AISA soccer, golf and track are already declassified (meaning all teams play for one state championship instead of playing within a region); but the varying competition levels due to enrollment make declassification more difficult with sports like football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball.
“This is our first year of another two-year classification,” Beck said. “We presented four scenarios or routes that we could go down the road [of declassification]. But, what hurts us is the number of participants from bottom to top. In some cases, it just probably wouldn’t be competitive.”
In total, the AISA services 81 schools and over 25,000 students. Half of those participate in athletics. Now that fall sport practice has officially begun, Beck is looking forward to another year of great things from the student-athletes in the AISA.
“We are here to serve our students and want them to have a positive experience,” he said.