Delaware high school football realignment is nearing reality. Here's what it may look like

Brad Myers
Delaware News Journal

After years of dabbling, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association finally appears to be ready to seriously tackle the realignment of schools to create more equitable competition.

At least in one sport: Football.

The Delaware Association of Athletic Directors football subcommittee presented a realignment proposal near the end of the monthly DIAA board of directors meeting Thursday, and the response from many board members was favorable.

Salesianum's Rasheen Caulk knocks a pass away from Hodgson's Ny'Ghee Lolley during the 2018 DIAA Division I football semifinals. If a realignment proposal is approved by the DIAA board of directors next month, Salesianum would be placed in the new Class AAA District 1, giving the Sals five guaranteed games against in-state opponents for the first time.

The DAAD proposal will continue to be tweaked, with the DIAA board expected to vote on it at its next meeting on Dec. 10. If approved, football realignment would likely go into effect for the 2021 season, and would be used at least through a two-year scheduling cycle.

“The idea to reclassify with football is largely based on the lack of consistency or lack of competitive games across the board,” said Smyrna athletic director Bill Schultz, a member of the DAAD football subcommittee and president of the Henlopen Conference.

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The proposal would split the state’s 44 high school football teams into three divisions, instead of the current two. The 12 largest, most successful schools would be grouped together in Class AAA. The 16 schools rated in the middle would be in Class AA. The 16 lower-rated schools would be in Class A.

There would be a District 1 and District 2 within each class, with District 1 comprised mostly of teams in the northern part of the state and District 2 comprised mostly of southern schools.

Tower Hill's Brendan Hickey outruns the Charter of Wilmington defense during a 33-15 win last Saturday. If a realignment proposal is approved by the DIAA board of directors next month, Tower Hill would be placed in the new Class AA District 1 for football, while Charter would play in Class A District 1.

To classify the teams, the DAAD football subcommittee used a formula based on school enrollment (50 percent), a team’s regular-season record over the previous three seasons (30 percent) and a team’s regular-season record over the previous five years (20 percent).

The subcommittee emphasized that the proposal submitted Thursday did not include the most recent enrollment numbers from 2019, so some teams could be reclassified as updated information is calculated.

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But under Thursday’s proposal, Delaware’s high school football teams would be realigned as follows:

• Class AAA, District 1: Appoquinimink, Middletown, Salesianum, Hodgson, William Penn, St. Georges.

• Class AAA, District 2: Caesar Rodney, Dover, Milford, Smyrna, Sussex Central, Sussex Tech.

• Class AA, District 1: A.I. du Pont, Archmere, Brandywine, Concord, Wilmington Friends, Howard, Mount Pleasant, Tower Hill.

• Class AA, District 2: Cape Henlopen, Caravel, Delaware Military Academy, Delmar, Lake Forest, Polytech, St. Mark’s, Woodbridge.

• Class A, District 1: Charter of Wilmington, Christiana, Conrad, Delcastle, Dickinson, McKean, St. Elizabeth, Tatnall.

• Class A, District 2: First State Military Academy, Glasgow, Indian River, Laurel, Newark, Red Lion Christian, St. Andrew’s, Seaford.

After the meeting, Schultz said the new Odessa High School, which will begin varsity play with freshmen and sophomores next season, would be placed into a class and district by the DIAA board or DIAA football committee.

“The establishment of this committee was to try and make it not as complicated as it is now, and as well to make a level playing field for all the teams,” said Dickinson athletic director Andy Dick, chairman of the DAAD subcommittee and president of the Blue Hen Conference.

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Dick reviewed all of the Delaware high school football games played during the 2019 season and found that 212 of 437 total games (48.5 percent) were decided by 25 points or more. It is hoped that reclassifying the teams – while still leaving room for some non-conference play on every school’s schedule – will lead to far more close, competitive matchups.

“It looks like a great plan,” said DIAA board member Bob Cilento, a former athletic director at Cape Henlopen who was part of a previous DIAA realignment committee whose work ultimately never received approval.

“I’m sure there will be some people that might not agree with it. … I applaud all the people who worked on this, because I think it looks outstanding.”

A.I. du Pont's Johnny Beverly-Davis (right) avoids Angel Velazquez-Bedolla of Dickinson during A.I.'s 42-22 victory last Friday. If a realignment proposal is approved by the DIAA board of directors next month, A.I. du Pont would play in the new Class AA District 1 and Dickinson would be part of the new Class A District 1.

Dr. Bradley Bley, another DIAA board member and part of DIAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, also praised the plan.

“I want to applaud you guys on this,” Bley said. “I’ve attended hundreds of games over the last few years, and I’ve always wondered why certain schools were playing each other on a regular basis.”

Schultz said that after two years, the top team from each district of Class AA could be bumped up to Class AAA, while the lowest team from each district of Class AAA could move down to Class AA. Similar movement could take place between the top teams in Class A and the lowest teams in Class AA.

Dick said he previously presented the proposal to the DIAA football committee, which may have to reconfigure how many points teams from different divisions would receive for playing each other as part of possibly restructuring the playoff points index.

“They were intrigued about the whole process,” Dick said. “They liked it.”

Caravel's Owen Robinson hurries Wilmington Friends quarterback Peter Erskine during the Bucs' 25-14 win last Friday. If a realignment proposal passes the DIAA board of directors next month, Caravel would be placed in the new Class AA District 2 and Friends would compete in the new Class AA District 1.

DIAA board chairperson Dr. Bradley Layfield asked how an out-of-state opponent would be classified for playoff points. Dick said the football committee could look at enrollment numbers from other states to match them with the new Delaware classifications.

As part of a busy agenda during a 6½-hour meeting, the DIAA board also took the following actions:

• Unanimously approved a plan submitted by the Delaware Wrestling Coaches Association that will allow for a limited wrestling season, with each team scheduling 12 dual meets. There will be no tri-meets, quad-meets or tournaments during the season, but a dual team state tournament and individual state tournament will be scheduled. Wrestlers must wear face coverings at all times, including while they are actively wrestling.

• Unanimously approved boys and girls basketball seasons, with practices beginning on Nov. 30 and games starting on Dec. 21. Teams may play a maximum of 18 games, and must play at least 16 games to qualify for the postseason. State tournaments are expected to be 24-team fields, with no automatic qualifiers.

Caesar Rodney's Kevin Hudson celebrates after winning the 285-pound title at the 2019 DIAA Individual Wrestling Tournament. The DIAA board of directors approved a plan that will allow for a limited wrestling season this winter, with wrestlers required to wear face coverings at all times.

• Affirmed that any games in any sport canceled due to COVID-19 concerns are no contests, not forfeits. It does not matter if one team can't play or both teams can't play. For example, the Woodbridge vs. Delmar football game canceled on Oct. 23 is a no contest, with no win or loss for either team.

• DIAA executive director Donna Polk said that as of Wednesday, 11 DIAA member schools have reported at least one positive COVID-19 test that has resulted in at least one athlete or coach or an entire team or teams to be quarantined for up to two weeks.

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• Polk said that during the first two weeks of play, 99 yellow cards and 10 ejections had been levied in boys soccer, and 12 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and five ejections had been flagged in football.

“We will continue to work with our member schools to reiterate good sportsmanship,” Polk said.

• Sussex Central principal Dr. Bradley Layfield was re-elected as board chairperson and Middletown High principal Matthew Donovan was re-elected as board vice chairperson for two years.

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