Sports Editor

OHS Boris Espinosa

After six years, Osceola and Gateway will no longer be in the same district. Gateway drops to Class 6A while Osceola remains in 8A.

2019-20 FOOTBALL DISTRICTS BY THE NUMBERS 

  • District 8A-6: Celebration, Osceola, Cypress Creek, Freedom, Lake Nona.

Other Region 2 top teams: Boone, Dr. Phillips, Oak Ridge, Tampa Plant, Sarasota Riverview

  • District 7A-5: Harmony, St. Cloud, Tohopekaliga, Melbourne, Viera.District 7A-6: Liberty, Poinciana, Bartow, George Jenkins, Winter Haven.

Other Region 2 top teams: Kathleen, Lakeland, Seffner Armwood

  • District 6A-9: Gateway, Auburndale, Palm Bay Bayside, Heritage, Lake Gibson.

‘Tis the season … for high school football coaches’ phones to be blowing up, fielding calls and texts from cohorts setting up the next round of schedules.

The Florida High School Athletic Association released its new football district alignment for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and it comes with changes that shocked and surprised some local coaches.

Osceola County’s eight programs will be spread among three classes and four districts, making it conceivable that a handful could qualify for the playoffs via district championships or the FHSAA’s playoff points system.

Notably, Celebration, previously in Class 7A, moves up to 8A, Tohopekaliga and Poinciana enter into separate 7A districts and Gateway drops from 8A to 6A into a district of schools a county away.

And, any thoughts of Gateway petitioning up to play in a 7A district with St. Cloud, Harmony, Liberty and now Poinciana were squashed. The FHSAA, in its release Friday about the new districts, noted that, “the staff has thoroughly reviewed the assignments and do not see any schools that are geographically isolated that would require movement to another classification (FHSAA Policy 12). To maintain the wishes of our constituents, the FHSAA will not be accepting appeals.

“After traveling the state this past year, the consensus the FHSAA heard from its athletic directors and coaches was that they wanted an equal number of teams by classification, an even number of teams in each district and region and no three-team districts. Moving schools would go against that sentiment and would create uneven classifications, regions or districts.”

For Gateway Coach Marlin Roberts, who now plays in District 6A-8 with Auburndale, Lake Gibson, Heritage and Palm Bay Bayside, it’s just par for the course.

“It’s not going to be easy to schedule now, I thought we’d be in with some of the county schools and that’d take care of a few games, but it’s going to be tough,” he said. “And for our two home district games, I don’t know how well those teams are going to travel, so I am worried a little about the gate. And history says Lake Gibson and Heritage have been two of their area’s best teams of late, and Auburndale often puts it together, too.”

Luckily for the Panthers, they should be able to hang with just about the rest of Region 3 come playoff time if GHS finds success against its 2019 schedule and makes the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

Where all the county’s Class 7A teams had been in the same district for the past six years, there are now five spread across two districts.

In the new 7A-5, St. Cloud, Harmony and Tohopekaliga will match up against Melbourne and perennial playoff contender Viera.

“I was shocked just like everyone else I’m sure,” St. Cloud Coach Bryan Smart said, noting the Bulldogs will still play Osceola and Gateway in their annual rivalry games, and get bonus points for them being playoff teams. “It will be nice to play some different teams from the coast.”

Harmony Coach Don Simon said he was expecting to be in with Poinciana and Gateway. He said this week he’s in talks to play Osceola while working to fashion a good schedule.

“I have a couple more slots to fill, but it’s looking good,” he said.

This is Tohopekaliga’s first district assignment after going 2-7 in its inaugural campaign. The Tigers played St. Cloud and Harmony last season.

Coach Anthony Davis loves the irony that Viera, where Tigers’ Athletic Director Kevin Mays coached before coming inland, is a district foe.

“It’s definitely a competitive group which I feel will bring excitement to our games,” Davis said. “We are looking forward to this upcoming season and being better and more competitive than we were our first year.”

One district over, Liberty and Poinciana, who played in 2018 as an independent, are in 7A-6 with Bartow, George Jenkins and Winter Haven.

The Chargers, who were 8-2 in the 2018 regular season but had to settle for a bowl game berth rather than a playoff one, had been going north and east for district games and now will go south.

“I thought our district would more or less be Osceola County with maybe an Orange County team or two,” LHS Coach Brandon Pennington said. “I was looking at playing Osceola, and some Orange County out of district.  This is kind of like whiplash on what the districts actually are. Now I am thinking of just scheduling the Osceola County teams as my out-of-district schedule.  I texted (the rest of the county’s coaches) almost immediately.

“It makes pretty good sense geographically, and I had briefly thought of playing Winter Haven or Kathleen, maybe even Lakeland. I think we have a great shot at winning this district, which makes the points less important. And with only four other teams in our district it gives us more control over who we play and building that strength of schedule.”

Region 7A-2 was already strong with Lakeland and Kathleen, and while power Tampa Plant moved up into 8A (into Osceola’s region), they were swapped with Armwood, who moved from 6A to 7A.

Celebration moves up to 8A and joins Osceola — the two were part of a 7A county district in 2012-13 — and is in 8A-6 with Lake Nona, Cypress Creek and Freedom.

The Kowboys look to that group to keep a string of eight straight district titles alive.

“Lake Nona always has the chance to be good. It will be nice to see some new faces in the district, but I wish they would try to make more seven or eight-team districts,” OHS Coach Doug Nichols said. “We could have been included with some more 8A's in Orlando to make a bigger district, but I guess you play the hand you’re dealt. I didn’t realize we were 80 students from being a 7A school. I like that they didn’t allow petitions.”

Nichols echoed that St. Cloud, Harmony and Liberty are on the “yes” or “likely” lists for scheduling, and that he has calls in to playoff teams like Winter Park, Edgewater, Wekiva and Vero Beach.

Vero Beach is now in Region 3 — but it’s replaced by Plant. To the north, Dr. Phillips is still a Region 2 foe, joined by Boone and Oak Ridge. Sarasota Riverview, a regional finalist the last two years, still resides there.

The FHSAA says it plans to release the new districts for other fall sports like girls volleyball, cross country, golf and swimming in January, winter sports districts (basketball, soccer, wrestling) in March, and spring sports (baseball, softball, tennis, track, flag football) in May or June.