The schools were on their holiday break when the word filtered out. The Florida High School Athletic Association was making changes in districts. Many schools in Polk County would be affected and Bartow was among the ones most impacted.
For the upcoming season, familiar district opponents from the recent past won’t be a part of the plan. It’s a new day and a new way. Whether that is better or worse remains to be seen.
If the 2013 schedule includes Winter Haven, Lake Gibson or Sebring, these won’t be games with district implications. It has been a long time since a Lake Gibson game wasn’t a district game.
The new alignment takes the Yellow Jackets from their previous spot in Class 6A, District 10 and moves them up a notch to Class 7A, where they will be part of District 5. Kathleen came along, but the remaining teams from the 2011-2012 configuration are playing elsewhere. They are no longer a concern when it comes to district games.
The step up had a lot to do with the school population. Bartow’s size is figured on the student count at Bartow High School, Summerlin Academy and International Baccalaureate. This creates what is perceived to be a larger pool of potential team members, but a clear majority of the players come from Bartow High School with a few from IB and even fewer from Summerlin.
“We just need to get more of those kids interested to come out for the program,” said Bartow head football coach Brett Biggs recently. “It’s rough when you only get three or four from a program that could have about 300 males.”
Biggs took the news of the potential opponent change in stride. “It is what it is. It’s out of my control,” he stated during a signing ceremony for outgoing Jacket players Gabriel Al-Shaer and Vontarious West in February. The school could have appealed the FHSAA’s decision. “It was not worth the fight, in my opinion.”
The new district, in addition to Kathleen, will be composed of all Polk County teams. The six-team roster includes George Jenkins, Lakeland, Haines City and Ridge.
The upside is that these are familiar foes. George Jenkins has been Bartow’s pre-season game for the past two years. Lakeland has been on the schedule for a home-and-home for the past two seasons. Haines City and Ridge were district opponents in 2009-10 when the teams were all members of 4A, District 8.
While the 2013 schedule has not been revealed, the team will start getting to the business of continuing the off-season conditioning and drawing interested talent to the team. The numbers are growing, as evidenced by last year’s roster sizes of the varsity and junior varsity. Once Biggs and the coaching staff can begin to hold practices and start building a rhythm for the year ahead, there is already a thought process in place.
“This change doesn’t affect our preparation,” Biggs said. “Our main objective is to get the players focused on what they do, not who they are playing. We are striving for mistake-free football. Turnovers killed us all year, so we are emphasizing getting the number of turnovers down. We want to make sure we nip that now and make the players aware of our expectations.”
Biggs is currently involved with the high school weightlifting team and their spring season. He and coach Kenny Strong are the only BHS faculty members among the coaches, a fact that Biggs sees as a disadvantage. Many schools use far fewer “community coaches” and Bartow could benefit from having coaches as staff members to teach players in the classroom and hold them accountable during their school days.