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District switch puts Southeast at disadvantage

Rivals don’t have to be your neighbors. It’s performance, not always proximity, that stirs emotions between teams, that makes one particular game sizzle more than the others.

But it’s hard to drum up some drama with a team based 117.96 miles from you. Or one that’s 115.6 miles away.

Such is the challenge facing Southeast’s football team following the Florida High School Athletic Association’s unveiling of the classifications and districts for the 2009-10 season.

The districts are tentative, and the official leagues will be announced in late January — which is about the time the Seminoles should start leaving for next fall’s Class 2A-District 6 game at La Belle.

They’ve gone from Class 4A to 2A, but the Seminoles’ gripe runs deeper than that. As we barrel toward a depression, Southeast has been placed into a district with Arcadia DeSoto, La Belle, Fort Myers Cypress Lake, Wauchula Hardee, Immokalee, Cape Coral Island Coast and Booker.

The Grateful Dead didn’t tour this much.

It’s an odd situation, given that a) gas prices may have dropped, but a 100-mile ride to Cypress Lake will cost more than a drive to St. Petersburg Lakewood; and b) I’m curious how many Island Coast fans will make the 92-mile drive from Cape Coral and fill the visiting side of John Kiker Memorial Stadium.

With the exception of Booker, coach Paul Maechtle said the Seminoles have played just one of those teams over the past 26 years — Hardee in a playoff game.

And there’s more — by having to schedule eight district games, Southeast will have to drop some of its perennial non-district rivals who not only provide good competition, but do boffo business at the box office.

The FHSAA has an unenviable task — shoehorning all these teams into districts and satisfying everyone. That’s impossible. But the confusing thing here is the association ditched its eight-district format for Class 6A through 3A to cut down on travel costs — and then throws Southeast in a district like this.

Football is more than a community-galvanizing sport — it’s a money maker. But it’s hard to pull in cash when you’re spending money on lenghty road trips or playing home games in front of an empty set of bleachers on the other side of the field.

Southeast has until Jan. 9 to appeal its case and petition to play in a higher district, and Maechtle said school officials are discussing doing just that.

They have to. The country is in economic peril and everything is being affected, including high school athletics, and pricey road trips and sparsely-attended home games could be killers.

The FHSAA can do better.

Come late January, let’s hope it has.

John Lembo, prep sports writer, can be reached at 745-7007, ext. 2097.