After competing against each other as region foes, Rockdale Salem and Heritage were separated this winter.
The Georgia High School Association reclassified all high school athletics in November into a new six-class system, placing the state’s biggest school in Class AAAAAAA rather than the previous Class AAAAA.
During the reclassification process, the GHSA deemed that Rockdale should be moved into this new classification, increasing from Class AAAA in the previous system.
In December, the new regions were released with Rockdale joining Alcovy, Newton and Druid Hills in Region 2-AAAAAA Subregion A.
“Those schools not far from us, so it will be like a rivalry thing,” Rockdale coach Venson Elder said. “It will be extra motivation for the kids.”
Heritage and Salem remained in the same region, but moved up from the previous Class AAAA to Class AAAAA in Region 8 Subregion B.
The Salem Seminoles and Patriots join Loganville, Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central in the region.
“It’s certainly exciting and certainly will be a challenge,” Heritage coach Chad Frazier said. “Our region is so competitive from top to bottom with good teams and good coaching staffs. We look forward to it as a coaching staff, and we have just about improved every year.”
The local school affected most by the change will be Rockdale County, which now moves up to Class AAAAAA.
Rockdale, with 1,441 students, will be the third smallest school in the new classification. Only Tri-Cities, with 1,439 and Morrow with 1,431, have smaller enrollment.
The only other current 8-AAA school moving to AAAAAA with Rockdale will be Habersham Central, with an enrollment of 1,450. The largest school in the class will be Mill Creek with 2,766 students. Newton County boasts 1,526 students.
But Elder, who is entering his first year at Rockdale, feels the new competition with bigger schools won’t be impossible to overcome.
“Coming from Peachtree Ridge, which was 7-AAAAA, and looking at the kids I have here, it’s really not that much of a difference,” Elder said. “Both teams have a lot of talent and our kids here are just going to have to step their games up. We can’t take breaks when playing high-level schools. With our talent pool, I feel that if we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Heritage and Salem fall in the middle of the pack in AAAAA with 1,244 and 1,187 students, respectively.
Joining them in the second-largest classification will be current 8-AAAA members Clarke Central (1,128), Cedar Shoals (1,199), Flowery Branch (1,332) and Winder-Barrow (1,400).
“It’s almost a lateral move,” Heritage athletic director Chuck Landy said. “Most everybody we were with is going with us. The more changes took place at the bottom end, with the smaller end schools, really.”
Joining the former Region 8-AAAA mates will be Gainesville in the new nine-team region, down from 11 a year ago, giving each team non-region dates to fill on the schedule this year.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Salem coach John Starr said. “I like the option of having those two open games but at the same time, you want to be at a good game every night and this region definitely offers that. We have five teams in our region that made a deep run into the playoffs.
“Then we have Gainesville which played in the semifinals last year makes this division pretty exciting.”
Even though Rockdale, Salem and Heritage are no longer in the same region they will still get to face each other throughout the season. Rockdale and Salem meet for the season opener on Aug. 31 and Rockdale hosts Heritage the following week.
“It’s nice having those first two weeks,” Frazier said. “You take it serious trying to win, but it’s not a must win situation for you, so there are little adjustments there when it’s that way how you strategize those games.”
Rockdale’s first Region 2-AAAAAA matchup will be Sept. 28 versus Morrow. Heritage and Salem open Region 8-AAAAA play against each other at Heritage on Sept. 14.