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Hello, Southwest High.

Hello, girls wrestling.

Goodbye in its current form to the best high school rivalry in the state.

Those were the headlines last week from a meeting of the Arkansas Activities Association, where football conferences for the 2020-22 cycle were announced. History will be made next February when a state tournament for girls will be held for the first time.

Good for the girls, whose options keep expanding for high school sports. But the move that has everyone buzzing relates to football, where two schools three miles apart will play in separate conferences for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Fort Smith Northside will remain in the 7A-Central with mostly Little Rock area schools while Fort Smith Southside will return to its former home in the 7A-West. The deciding factor in the league assignments was determined by travel, with Southside being 1.3 miles farther away from all the remaining 7A schools than is Northside.

“A lot of folks can’t believe Northside and Southside are going to be split up,” Fort Smith School District athletic director Darren McKinney said.

No kidding.

That’s the view not only for those in Fort Smith, but for fans of high school sports around the state. I’ve had the pleasure of covering the Week 10 “Battle of Rogers Avenue” several times, and I’ve long referred to it as the best high school rivalry in the state.

Not so sure that’ll still be the case, especially when the game will move from Week 10 to a non-conference matchup within the first three weeks of the season. Being top teams in the same conference made the rivalry special, like in 1987 when Southside went undefeated in league play then lost to Northside in the state championship game.

The folks who made the final decision to split Northside and Southside into different leagues had very few options, especially with an Arkansas Activities Association handbook that states conferences must be comprised of eight teams. The split became necessary with the arrival of Little Rock Southwest, a new school in Class 7A that will combine students from Fair and McClellan.

People are disappointed, for sure, but there may be a rainbow following the storm.

Our man Henry Apple, a longtime sports writer who advises the AAA on reclassification, said the split in Fort Smith could be only for two years if a couple of notable trends in school enrollment continues. The numbers the AAA uses for reclassification indicate Bentonville West has lost students, and the Wolverines could drop down to Class 6A for football if this keeps happening, and Jonesboro — which would have been a 7A school had it not been for Southwest’s appeal — continues to grow as expected.

That would place Northside and Southside in the 7A-West and send Bentonville West to the 6A-West, where the Wolverines would join area schools like Greenwood, Van Buren, Siloam Springs and Russellville. There’s also the possibility administrators in Bentonville would redraw its boundaries to keep Bentonville High and Bentonville West in the same classification.

We’ll see.

Fort Smith public school officials have until July to appeal the assignments for Northside and Southside, but there may not be a better option than the one that was decided last week.

If so, perhaps the schools could make the best of a bad situation and schedule the “Battle of Rogers Avenue” as a season-opener that would draw plenty of attention. As Henry Apple and Chip Souza suggested on our radio show last week, how about playing the game ahead of the traditional openers on Friday and moving it to a neutral location, like Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville?

It’ll take some work, but high school games have been played before on the Razorbacks’ home turf. Besides, a game between Northside and Southside would likely be far more entertaining that the season-openers Arkansas has planned against Kent State in 2020 and Missouri State in 2021.

It’s a longshot, but I like the idea much better than sending two schools three miles apart in vastly different directions.

Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.

Print Headline: Change to state’s best football rivalry an unpopular move

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