High School Football

The FHSAA unveiled new football classes. Here’s how it impacts Manatee County teams

The Florida High School Athletic Association on Friday released the new football classifications and districts for the next two seasons.

And there are big changes impacting Manatee County football programs.

Manatee High dropped from Class 8A to 7A, joining the new District 10 with Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota and Venice — three holdovers from last season’s 7A-11.

Two teams from that 7A district this past season, Braden River and Palmetto, dropped to Class 6A-District 12.

The Pirates and Tigers remain district foes, but are joined by fresh opponents Punta Gorda Charlotte and Port Charlotte, who were both in 6A last season. A non-district opponent the past several seasons, Southeast, moves up from 5A to round out 6A-12.

Braden River and Manatee High both dropped classifications when the Florida High School Athletic Association unveiled the new classes and districts for the 2019 and 2020 football seasons on Friday. Bradenton Herald file photo

Bayshore remains in 5A, but moves to District 12 along with Sarasota Booker to play against Hillsborough County programs Robinson, Chamberlain and Jesuit and Pinellas County’s Dunedin.

Per the FHSAA’s playoff overhaul two seasons ago, there are no districts in Class 4A-1A.

In 4A-Region 3, Manatee County’s newest high school, North River, which opens in August, is listed with a starting enrollment of 1,000 and will play in the same region as Tampa Catholic, Somerset Canyons, Lake Placid, Clewiston, St. Petersburg Lakewood, Englewood Lemon Bay, Tenoroc, Avon Park and Belle Glade Glades Central.

Manatee County athletic director Jason Montgomery told the Herald that North River will play a junior varsity schedule the first season, and will have the option of either moving to varsity for the second year or sticking with a JV team or play a hybrid schedule between the two. He added it will depend on the numbers North River gets for its football team as well as the school’s choice on what they’ll do.

Cardinal Mooney remained in Class 3A-Region 3 with rival Clearwater Central Catholic.

Bradenton Christian, Saint Stephen’s and Out-of-Door Academy remain in the independent Sunshine State Athletic Conference.

In the past, programs could appeal their district placement to move up or down a classification. However, the FHSAA noted in a press release that is not possible for this two-year classification cycle.

“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,” the release stated.

“Moving schools would go against that sentiment and would create uneven classifications, regions or districts. 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).”

If teams are unhappy with their placement, their only option is to become an independent for the next two years, the FHSAA release states.

Braden River, Palmetto and Southeast’s district in 7A has an uneven balance with five teams.. The Pirates’ drop to 6A means they’ll avoid Venice, a team that has won six straight games in the series, including three consecutive playoff games.

However, the playoff road for Manatee County’s teams in 6A doesn’t mean an easier path to a potential state title. The 6A super district, featuring arguably the three best teams in the state over the past few seasons, was broken up in South Florida. Miami Central is the lone team remaining in 6A as Northwestern (5A) and Carol City (4A) moved down classifications.

With their drops, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas remaining in 7A and private school success in 3A and 2A, there is a good chance South Florida programs will be heavy favorites to win seven of the eight football state titles.

Manatee’s drop from 8A to 7A allows for schedule flexibility not seen since the Hurricanes were mired in a large 8A district with Hillsborough County programs and Sarasota Riverview. The Rams remain in 8A, but Manatee will only have three district games now, which could set up a revival of the Southeast rivalry series in the immediate future.

The classification breakdown by enrollment:

  • 8A is 2,405-4,799 students.
  • 7A is 2,009-2,404 students.
  • 6A is 1,663-1,993 students.
  • 5A is 1,169-1,648 students.
  • 4A is 752-1,153 students.
  • 3A is 384-749 students
  • 2A is 56-376 students.
  • 1A is rural schools with 100-600 students.
Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.