The Arkansas Activities Association board of directors recently recommended the reclassification of a number of area schools, effecting Region 4, which includes the 3AA North and 3AA South Conferences.
Long considered one of the toughest regions in the state of Arkansas in Class AA, these two conferences would now be combined to produce a stronger league, making it even more difficult to advance to the Class AA State Tournament.
"We've had such a good conference for so long, I hate to see it break up," said Riverside Athletic Director and Head Boys Basketball Coach Buster Campbell. "It really will hurt us at the gate to lose some of our long time rivals, such as Marmaduke, and will hurt us financially through added travel."
If the proposal goes into effect, the new conference would be formed beginning with the 2006-2007 school year, and would consist of Bay, Buffalo Island Central, Cross County, Crowley's Ridge Academy, Earle, Marked Tree, Rector and Riverside. In addition, Turrell is petitioning to join the league.
A big change would mark Marmaduke's moving to AAA while former 3AA North members Walnut Ridge and Maynard will move to the 2AA and the 3A North respectively.
The Piggott Mohawks will join Marmaduke in the 3AAA conference which will include Brookland, Cave City, Corning, East Poinsett County, Harrisburg, Hoxie, and Manila.
"In essence, the conference has become the "regionals" by combining the two former leagues," said Campbell. "I can't say that I am happy with it, but that's just the breaks of the game. We would like to continue to play Marmaduke, and I have talked to Coach Steve Richey about keeping the series alive, but if Turrell is added to the league, we would have a 16 game conference season, making it harder to schedule non-conference games. In addition, even if we play Marmaduke, it wouldn't be a league game anymore, which takes some of the luster away."
Riverside girls basketball coach Greg Rainwater also hates to see the long-standing rivalry with Marmaduke come to an end. "Our girls have been such big rivals over the years, long before I became coach here," Rainwater said. "The rivalry goes back to when Danny Dunigan coached at Riverside and Jim Bowlin was the head man at Marmaduke. Sometimes change is good, but I hate to lose the rivalries. The travel will be a trade off for us, as we lose the long trips to Piggott and Maynard, but now travel to Earle, Cross County and Marked Tree. Even with the loss of a powerhouse program such as Marmaduke, it will still be a very tough conference, and we look forward to the challenge."
Bay head basketball coach Brandon Craig said the new conference will be even stronger, despite losing Marmaduke, with the addition of Earle, Marked Tree, and Cross County. Craig was also concerned with the effect the new league would have on the gate and the athletic budget.
"I also think you will see a different style of play, a more physical style," said Craig. "It's going to be difficult to get to the regional, because our district will be so difficult. You may see a tougher regional than state tournament in certain years. I really prefer the way the league is. There is a certain comfort zone that you get used to. Everyone gets along. I just hope it all works out for the best. We will give it 100 percent no matter how the conference is aligned and I will try to keep Marmaduke on our schedule to help out our athletic budget."
Schools may appeal the assignments at a Sept. 28 meeting, but for now it looks as though the recommendation for reclassification will become a reality. One thing is for sure, fans in northeast Arkansas will still see quality basketball in Class AA whether there is a realignment or not.