St. James in new region

St. James players practice in preparation for the upcoming season. This year, the Sharks will play in the 5A division. Their region includes Carolina Forest and Socastee.

In chiropracty, realignment is a relatively simple procedure designed to provide pain relief. But in high school football, realignment is a more painful process that has some local coaches on pins and needles.

Every two years, the South Carolina High School League (SCHSL), the state's prep sports governing body, adjusts the five-classification system's region makeup to reflect the changing enrollments of schools across the state.

With the Grand Strand in the midst of a population boom, several teams are experiencing growing pains in unfamiliar region territory. The changes not only have a major impact on scheduling, ticket revenue and travel budgets, but also on the challenges on the gridiron.

Case in point is the new Region 6-4A, which saw the balance of power shift from the Grand Strand to the Pee Dee as Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach join Darlington, Hartsville, Marlboro County and Wilson.

For the Seahawks and Chiefs, the changes increase the level of competition, add one more team to the mix, and take away one automatic playoff berth.

“Our region is now one of, if not the toughest region in the state of South Carolina,” said North Myrtle Beach coach Matt Reel, whose Chiefs won their first outright Region 7-4A title last season. “It will be a major accomplishment to win the Region 6-4A title and also to be one of the three teams that advances to the playoffs from our region.”

The local school to vacate Class 4A, St. James, received mixed blessings by being elevated to Class 5A. The struggling Sharks elude the heavy-hitting Region 6-4A but join a trio of local rivals in Region 5-5A - Carolina Forest, Conway and Socastee. South Florence and West Florence round out the region, which basically traded state power Sumter for St. James.

“In regards to realignment, I think our region is very tough, but we just left one of the better 4A regions overall in the state,” first-year Sharks coach Tommy Norwood said. “St. James’ main concern is how much we improve, not so much the competition, but that we get better every day.”

Things got harder for the county’s Class 3A schools as well, with Aynor and Loris welcoming another tough challenger to Region 6-3A. In addition to returning state power Dillon, Cheraw now joins the fray with Lake City and Marion. Green Sea Floyds will play in the tiny but tough four-team Region 6-A with Creek Bridge, Hemingway and Lake View.

“In the region we're in, there's a team that wins every game, and that’s Dillon,” Loris coach Jamie Snider said of the Wildcats, who have won five of the past six state championships. “It’s Dillon and everybody else in our region.”

The changes may make it tougher than ever for area teams to qualify for the playoffs. The old format featured eight regions receiving four playoff spots in Class A through 4A, but now those teams will have to vie for at-large bids like Class 5A has in recent years.

Realignment has also caused some scheduling issues for local teams, but the coaches plan to follow the old adage of taking them one game at a time regardless of which teams are up next.

“We don't control who’s on our region schedule,” Myrtle Beach coach Mickey Wilson said. “We can only control how we play, and that's going to be our focus.”

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