The Florida High School Athletic Association has released its winter sports districts — in basketball, soccer, wrestling and girls weightlifting — for the next two seasons.
While the changes aren’t seismic, they are noticeable.
Osceola can not defend its Class 9A boys basketball state championship next spring. That’s only because the FHSAA has trimmed basketball — like volleyball in the fall and probably baseball and softball in the spring — from nine to seven classes.
The first eye-opening change is the basketball district. Osceola, along with Celebration, is in District 7A-6 with a significant newcomer: Windermere. The Wolverines reached the Class 8A state tournament, in just their second year of existence, this season.
Soccer grows from five classes to six.
In many cases, the new districts stretch across longer distances than in years past. For instance, District 6A-6, where Liberty and Poinciana landed in basketball, also includes Edgewater and Lake Howell, and Winter Haven and Bartow, a 75-mile stretch north to south. But that’s not the issue it would be under the old rules; starting in 2019-20, playing all district teams in the regular season isn’t mandatory. MaxPreps’ computerized mathematical rankings will be used to set district seedings and the tournament brackets.
Cutting the number of classes and allowing for more sprawling groupings helped eliminate three and four-team districts. Nearly every team sport squad in Osceola County is now a member of a six-team district.
Overall, the county’s 11 public, private and charter boys basketball programs are spread over seven districts, meaning lots of potential postseason play.
Haines City and Ridge come over with Osceola from the old District 9A-7, and will play in 7A-6 with Celebration and East Ridge. Tohopekaliga was grouped into 7A-5 with Orange County schools Lake Nona, Oak Ridge, Boone, Freedom and Cypress Creek.
Oak Ridge and Osceola are now in neighboring districts, meaning the Kowboys-Pioneers game that has decided the regional champion the last three years (the winner went on to win the 9A state championship) would occur in the first two rounds of playoffs.
St. Cloud and Harmony are in District 6A-5 with East River, Sebastian River, Melbourne and Viera. Gateway, seeing the effects of the opening of Tohopekaliga High lowering its student count, is in District 5A-8 with Brevard County schools Rockledge, Palm Bay, Merritt Island, Eau Gallie, Bayside and Heritage.
New Dimensions and new school Four Corners Charter are in 3A-9 with Polk County schools Santa Fe Catholic, Lakeland Christian, Discovery and Frostproof.
City of Life is in District 2A-11 with Winter Park International Community, Orlando Christian Prep, Lakeland Victory, Orlando Fait Christian and All Saints.
In soccer, Osceola and two-time Class 5A state runner-up Celebration move up to the large-school Class 6A and play in District 6 with Haines City, Ridge and Orlando schools Cypress Creek and Freedom, two playoff contenders.
Storm boys coach Chad Boudreaux said his team is used to seeing strong teams like Freedom.
“We’ve played them in the past and developed a bit of a rivalry,” he said. “We’ve scheduled those Metro (Conference, Orange County’s conference) teams and other strong ones like Lake Mary (last year’s 5A state champ, who Celebration beat early in the year), so it won’t be much different scheduling for us than in years past. We’ll try to schedule some of the top teams in other regions.”
St. Cloud, Poinciana (a reigning Class 3A district champion), Liberty and Tohopekaliga are in District 5A-9 with East River and New Smyrna Beach. Harmony is in 5A-12 with South Fork, Sebastian River, Melbourne, Viera and Martin County. Gateway is in 4A-5 with Deltona, Pine Ridge, Jones and Lake Minneola.
New Dimensions is in 2A-6 with Windermere Prep, Lakeland Christian, Discovery, Frostproof and Lake Placid.
In wrestling, Osceola hopes to keep a nearly decade-long streak of district titles alive, and will do it in a familiar District 3A-5 against Celebration, Bartow, G.Jenkins, Haines City, Plant City, Ridge and Winter Haven.
They go south and west, and St. Cloud and Toho go north in 3A-9 against Boone, Cy Creek, DP, Freedom, Lake Nona, Oak Ridge and Olympia.
Gateway drops down to Class 2A with Harmony, Poinciana and Liberty and are in District 5 with East River, Edgewater, Jones, South Lake and perennial state contender Winter Springs.
Around the county, mandatory Orange Belt Conference schedules may go out the window as well, as school district sports officials have considered holding eight-team OBC tournaments in team sports to crown conference champions.
Some coaches say it’s good in theory but will be hard to implement. St. Cloud girls basketball Coach Chad Ansbaugh said he needs those seven county games to help fill out the schedule.
“We’re playing Florida Prep (Class 2A state champ), Bishop Kenney (7A runner-up) and in some tournaments where we’ll struggle to win 10 games,” he said. “We were 28-3 last year, nobody wants to play us by choice. Paul (Strauch at Harmony) is having the same problem with being in the middle of nowhere.
“As coaches we voted against it because, if county teams choose not to play us, where do we go?”
Boudreaux said he’s high on a county soccer tournament to decide OBC, but it’s hard scheduling it.
“We’ve talked about November, when we’re just starting the season, or in early January before the district tournaments, but some of our European or South American players go overseas for Christmas and aren’t back that first week after break,” he said. “There’s still a lot to talk about that.”
Winter sports districts for baseball, softball, tennis, track and flag football are expected to come out in May.