November 16, 2012 11:54:45 AM
Area high school football fans came one step closer Thursday to seeing the renewal of the Starkville High School versus Columbus High gridiron rivalry.
The Mississippi Department of Education made official enrollment numbers for state high schools. With that, the Mississippi High School Activities Association confirmed classifications for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
As a result, Starkville High will return to Class 6A for the next two school years. The state's largest 32 schools compete in that classification.
While the Yellow Jackets stand three wins away from a Class 5A football state championship this season, coach Jamie Mitchell said his squad looks forward to the challenge.
"It's clear we're going to play 6A football after what was released (Thursday)," Mitchell said. "But I need to make clear there's no question we can compete at that level."
Tupelo High School leads the state with 2,076 students in grades 9 through 12. That total represents 225 more students than Southaven High, which is second. Starkville is firmly in Class 6A with 1,192 students -- 83 students more than Hernando High, which was last to make the cut. Columbus High has 1,177 students.
School districts will have two weeks to appeal their enrollment numbers. After the appeal process is complete, the MHSAA will finalize regions for athletic competition in all sports.
Starkville and Columbus last played each other in 2010 when Columbus recorded a 34-32 victory in Starkville. Realignment made keeping the game as a non-region contest a near impossibility. While there are no guarantees, Columbus and Starkville would be placed in the same region, it seems like a natural fit with the campuses being about 25 miles apart.
"I'm interested to see where they put us in a region," Mitchell said. "But I don't think there's any doubt that in terms of numbers, athletes, depth and support, we are better and can compete with the best of 6A."
Present Class 6A, Region 1 members Tupelo, Southaven, DeSoto Central, Olive Branch, Horn Lake, South Panola, Columbus, and Grenada all remain in Class 6A. Under its current format, Columbus would travel three times to DeSoto County in the 2013 season. Possibly, a current Region 1 could be moved to Region 2 to include Starkville. Region 2 is primarily made up of central Mississippi schools, so Grenada might get the call under that scenario.
With victories Friday night, West Point and Starkville would meet in next week in the Class 5A North State championship. It would be a second straight season the teams met in the regular season and postseason. Some wondered if the teams would continue to play in the regular season. With West Point remaining in the middle of Class 5A, the teams will most likely continue their non-region contract.
"Since (West Point) coach Chris (Chambless) and I aren't going to see each other in the same classification of playoffs, I don't think either one of us will have an issue playing that non-league game at all," Mitchell said. "My issue was agreeing to possibly play that game twice in one season when it was clear we'd likely see each in the north half playoffs."
New Hope will remain in Class 5A by roughly 40 students, while Caledonia and Noxubee County will remain in Class 4A. Aberdeen will remain in Class 3A, while Hamilton will do the same in Class 2A. East Oktibbeha County and West Oktibbeha County will remain in Class 1A.
Last season, Starkville High won the Class 5A All-Sports Award, presented by the Clarion-Ledger. The Yellow Jackets earned award points in 19 of 22 sports.
That finish included a run by the school's boys basketball team to the Mississippi Coliseum and the Class 5A overall state tournament.
"This is not a major change for us," Starkville boys basketball coach Greg Carter said. "In Class 5A and in Class 6A, you have to be really good teams in the playoffs. We will play the same teams in non-region play, so it's not that major a factor.
"What we have seen in the last couple of years is that Class 5A has had a lot more depth. When you get down to the final four, you still have to play great teams and you still have to win the games. It comes and goes in cycles. We will just get geared up now and play for a different championship."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter