FHSAA finalizes spring sports district realignment

TARPON SPRINGS - High school sports districts in North Pinellas are back to being normalized - somewhat.

The Florida High School Athletic Association completed reclassifying the state's schools and has announced July 3 the new district alignments for spring sports.

Palm Harbor University High School remains as the lone of five northernmost schools in Pinellas with many programs needing to travel well out of the area for district road games.

The Hurricanes baseball and softball teams, along with football, basketball and volleyball, will be in Class 8A District 8 next school year with Bradenton Manatee, Sarasota Riverview and St. Petersburg.

Redistricting for fall and winter sports was completed earlier this year.

East Lake and Tarpon Springs are the two local school with programs changing classification in many sports, with East Lake dropping to 7A from 8A and Tarpon Springs to 5A from 6A.

East Lake rejoins an all-Pinellas league for baseball and softball that also has Countryside, Clearwater, Northeast, Pinellas Park and Seminole.

Tarpon will join Dunedin in the Pasco-heavy District 5A-8. Though down a class, the move actually keeps the Spongers' Pasco travel plans similar to the past two years.

Rounding out the eight-school district for baseball and softball are Anclote, Fivay, Gulf, Land O' Lakes, River Ridge and Sunlake.

Dunedin pulls a 180 from its all-southern jaunts of the past two years, getting a reprieve from having to traverse the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for trips to Bradenton.

FHSAA tackles realignment every two years in order to keep districts fair and competitive based on student populations. A benefit for FHSAA officials involved in this year's process was that the amount of classifications remained consistent.

In 2011, the state expanded the number of classes in an effort to better serve its growing number of member schools. By doing so, some areas were sometimes left with only a couple schools (depending on the sport) in certain classes.

That was the case for East Lake and Palm Harbor then. They both became part of the newly created Class 8A for the state's largest enrollments for sports like football, baseball and basketball. But to find competition they had to go either east, into Hillsborough, or south, into Manatee and Sarasota.

Both schools went south and were faced with long trips, often during rush hour, to the other two schools in their district, North Port and Sarasota Riverview.

Dunedin faced a similar predicament as a Class 5A program following the last realignment, primarily in football. The rebuilding Falcons were stuck in an extremely top-heavy District 5A-8 with eight other teams mostly from Hillsborough.