St. Al’s move to MAIS creates challenges with scheduling, manpower

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015

St. Aloysius softball players Hannah Ashley, left, and Grace Upshaw (15) low-five each other during a playoff game against Ethel in April. St. Al’s softball team will begin its season in early August after the school announced it is moving to the MAIS. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

St. Aloysius softball players Hannah Ashley, left, and Grace Upshaw (15) low-five each other during a playoff game against Ethel in April. St. Al’s softball team will begin its season in early August after the school announced it is moving to the MAIS. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Candice Reeder expected to have a relatively easy fall semester, teaching classes at St. Aloysius and working with individual players to get them ready for the 2016 softball season.

That changed in the blink of an eye Wednesday, when St. Al announced its intentions to leave the Mississippi High School Activities Association for the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools.

Unlike the MHSAA, which plays softball in the spring, the MAIS season is in the fall. Its first playing date is Friday. Suddenly, Reeder faced the prospect of a summer cram session on new opponents and rules differences, gathering her team and preparing to play a season she thought was six months away.

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“I don’t know any of the coaches. I couldn’t tell you who the teams are in our conference,” Reeder said, more with the tone of someone embarking on a new adventure than one who had a herculean task dropped in her lap. “We’re going into it positive and thankful for all of our students getting the opportunity to play.”

St. Al and Greenville-St. Joe both announced Wednesday they would switch affiliations to the MAIS effective immediately. The decision was made following an MHSAA ruling that banned out-of-state students from participating in activities. St. Al has 14 such students and St. Joe about 50.

Another MHSAA rule prohibits students who live beyond a 20-mile radius from playing sports. Four of Reeder’s softball players — Jordan McDonald, Michelle Howington, Brooklyn Richards and Brantlee Richards — fall into one category or the other. That gave Reeder a greater appreciation for the move, and not just because it means she won’t have to replace half of the starting lineup from a team that reached the MHSAA Class 1A semifinals last season.

Reeder, who is also a St. Al graduate, said the sense of community when stakeholders and school officials met Monday to discuss the issue was overwhelming.

“I was very proud to be a part of our school. Even the parents who were not affected by this said we’re a family and we have to do what’s best for all of them,” Reeder said. “That sends a chill up my spine, because you feel the family aspect of it.”

From a practical perspective, Reeder and her fellow coaches have a lot of work ahead of them in the coming days. There is an organizational meeting scheduled for Friday morning at MAIS headquarters in Pearl. It’s expected that a lot of logistical problems will be discussed and, hopefully, solved.

Some, though are easier than others. The long list includes:

• Scheduling. The football schedules for St. Al and St. Joe have been set since early this year and now need to be torn up. Soccer and softball will need to be done from scratch.

The issue goes well beyond the two Catholic schools. The MAIS creates the football schedule for the entire organization through its office. Adding and subtracting games with a central authority handling it might prove to be easier, but it’s still a difficult task that normally takes weeks.

On the bright side, St. Al and St. Joe were scheduled to play each other Sept. 25. St. Al and Cathedral are scheduled to play on Aug. 21, so several dates can easily be filled without muddling up the master schedule. Cathedral is also considering joining the MAIS, but has not yet made a final decision.

Both St. Al and St. Joe were in the same football region in the MHSAA, as well, meaning a number of schools might have three open dates this season — one that was built into the schedule, and two more they’ll be unable to fill on short notice.

Swimming and cross country, two other fall sports, often participate in multiple-team meets and probably won’t be as affected as the other sports.

• Facilities. Soccer practices and plays games on football fields, which will be unavailable for the girls’ season in the fall. That will force school officials to find an alternate venue — likely in Bovina, where St. Al, Warren Central and Vicksburg High have long played early-season games.

“Soccer-wise, we have to figure out where we’re going to practice and play,” St. Al athletic director Mike Jones said. “We’re going to have to make arrangements. This whole thing is a workable situation.”

• Manpower. The way the MHSAA seasons were staggered, students often flowed from one sport to the other. With soccer, softball and cheerleading now — three activities that used to be in three different seasons — now taking place simultaneously, those teams will have to share athletes.

“Part of being in a Catholic school is knowing how to work together. We as coaches are going to make sure these girls are going to be able to play all of their sports,” Reeder said. “This is all new territory for us, between sharing athletes between soccer, fast-pitch and dance. A lot of my girls do a lot of those things. We’re going to be in juggle mode.”

• The bureaucracy. A new association means different procedures and paperwork for mundane but important things like scheduling officials and providing security.

“We do most of the same things they do as far as getting ready for the season, paying membership dues, security plans, things like that,” Jones said. “The biggest thing is scheduling officials. We used Arbiter (an online scheduling system) and they use assigning secretaries.”

While all of the challenges and changes will create their own unique headaches, Jones said the change was for the best and everyone at St. Al was ready to take them on.

“There’s a lot of things that are going to come up that we don’t know are going to come up,” he said. “They’re all workable situations.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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