SCHSL wants Berea High to move up a classification. Here's why the school is fighting.

·5 min read

The South Carolina High School League announced Dec. 17 its proposal for realignment -- a shakeup that determines the region and classification for each team competing in the SCHSL. Realignment occurs every two years.

The SCHSL uses each school's enrollment in grades 9 through 11 on the 45th day of the school to determine its classification. In the current proposal, the 36 schools with the largest enrollment would be placed in Class AAAAA; the next 41 were placed in AAAA, 43 in AAA, 44 in Class AA and 55 in A.

There are opportunities for a school to appeal its proposed placement to the SCHSL. The first occurred this week; others occur Feb. 9 and Feb. 16 before realignment is finalized Feb. 22.

On Monday morning, Berea High athletic director Andrew Chisholm and principal Mike Noel appealed the Bulldogs' proposed placement in Class AAAA to the Class AAAA and AAA executive committees.

The Bulldogs, who have competed in Class AAA for the past two years, are proposed to head back up tp AAAA, the classification they competed in during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.

"If you take a look at our financial situation as well as the students that come to us that, for lack of a better word, are not going to be able to participate," Noel said during the appeal to the AAA executive committee, "then we should be in AAA."

REALIGNMENT: See what the proposed realignment could look like for the next two years

The Class AAAA executive committee voted 5-4 against allowing Berea to remain in Class AAA; the Class AAA executive committee voted 6-3 in favor of Berea. Both committees have to vote in favor for the appeal to be approved, so the appeal now goes to the Feb. 9 appeal date, where Chisholm and Noel will again appeal their proposed placement in AAAA.

Berea appealed the proposed placement in Region 1-AAAA and hopes to be placed in Region 3-AAA with Blue Ridge, Broome, Carolina, Chapman and Travelers Rest.

Berea is the only school in Greenville County among the seven that are proposed to move classifications that would placed in a higher classification by the SCHSL.

In its letter of appeal, Berea stated that, "Berea High School sits at the center of a multiculturally diverse community. Many factors in the surrounding community skew an accurate count of the real time enrollment of Berea High School."

That statement is key to Berea's appeal. According to a copy of the appeal filed to the SCHSL, Berea's 45th-day enrollment count was 1,025, a total that deems the school large enough to be placed in Class AAAA, but barely. Another Greenville County school, Travelers Rest, has an enrollment count of 976 -- 49 fewer students than Berea in grades 9 through 11 -- but Travelers Rest is proposed to moved down from AAAA to AAA next fall.

Noel and Chisholm argued to the AAA and AAAA executive committees that Berea should be placed in AAA, too. The main reason being the makeup of its community and its impact on enrollment. According to the letter, "121 students included in our 45th day count ... are not eligible to participate in athletics in the next realignment."

Those 121 students would put Berea's 45th-day count below that of Travelers Rest. According to the filing, the high school has experienced the withdrawal of 283 students since Aug. 17, 2021 – the first day of school – while enrolling 192 since the start.

"Our uniqueness skews our numbers," Chisholm said during the appeal to AAA Executive Committee.

That uniqueness includes two programs and two types of students who attend the school that make up the 121 students that are ineligible to compete in athletics.

The school has 15 students with intellectual and physical disabilities, that "do not possess the mental or physical abilities to compete in athletics," according to the filing. There are 37 students in Berea's Newcomer Program that is for "for new immigrant children to enroll in public school," who do not have the proper education background or paperwork to be eligible to compete in athletics, according to the appeal filing.

There were 21 students who graduated early in 2020 and 48 who are in their fourth or fifth year at Berea but not on the grade levels that were counted as 9th- through 11th- graders on the 45-day count provided to the SCHSL.

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The SCHSL has not publicly announced the cutoff numbers for each classification and did not respond to an email and voicemails requesting specific numbers as of Thur. Berea's appeal filing states that their 45-day count "is only 49.17 students above the cutoff line between AAA and AAAA."

If Berea's appeal is denied Feb. 9 by the overall SCHSL executive committee and again on Feb. 16 by the SCHSL appellate panel, the Bulldogs will be one of the smallest schools competing in AAAA.

The filing also cites the immense struggles of Berea High's athletic teams while competing in AAAA. The boys soccer program at the school has been highly competitive for several years. Berea's boys soccer team won state titles in Class AAA in 2017 and 2018.

"Traditionally, my last point is, we struggle every time we're placed in AAAA," Chisholm said during Berea's presentation to the Class AAA Executive Committee. The SCHSL has not said it takes competition into account while realigning regions and classifications.

Joe Dandron covers high school sports for The Greenville News. Contact him at jdandron@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter: @JoeMDandron. You can send in scores, stats and story tips to 864Huddle@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Why Berea High is appealing its placement by SCHSL in AAAA