DHS moving to Class 3A for sports
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
After years of competing in the S.C. High School League’s Class 4A, Darlington High School and all of its sports teams are moving to Class 3A – a switch that will benefit players, coaches, fans and the community, DHS’ principal says.
After hearing testimony from DHS Principal Cortney Gehrke on Jan. 24 in Columbia, two executive committees of the High School League each voted 9-1 to approve DHS’ request for the move to Class 3A. It should take effect next season.
DHS will remain in the League’s Region 6, but the change means the school’s teams will face an entirely different slate of opposing teams.
As a 4A school, DHS competed against schools including West Florence, South Florence, Wilson, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. Once it moves to 3A, Darlington’s opponents will include Camden, Crestwood, Lakewood, Lake City and Marlboro County High.
Gehrke argued that the move will put DHS’ teams on much more even ground than they’re on now. She said that virtually all of DHS’ sports teams are outmatched by virtually all the teams they’re been playing in 4A.
DHS, with fewer than 1,000 students, is the smallest school in Class 4A’s Region 6, Gehrke said. (It will be the largest 3A school in that region, by about five students.) It’s also among the poorest in terms of family incomes, she said. All that has combined to make it hard for DHS to even field teams in some sports.
“In the past several years, we have not been able to (field) a JV football team,” she told one of the League’s executive committees. “This past year, our 9th- and 10th-graders composed most of our varsity team, and we had about 35 on the field on a Friday night. … And we were competing against schools that had around 80 (players).”
Gehrke said the situation has gotten to the point that athletes feel beaten before they even start to play. “Our kids are not even wanting to come in to try out for the sports because they feel like they’re coming in already defeated.”
She said 3A is also a better match for DHS in terms of family incomes in the area. “We can discuss all day long whether poverty matters or not,” Gehrke said, but she said other 4A schools are, essentially, much richer than DHS.
“That does make a difference,” she said. “We’re talking about availability of facilities and athletic equipment. We’re talking about our students’ ability to even be able to afford to participate. Our families cannot currently travel to some of our games because they are so far away.”
“When we played North Myrtle Beach last year for football,” she continued, “we sold 17 tickets. Seventeen tickets for Darlington fans (who) were able to attend North Myrtle Beach.”
Because of poverty levels in the DHS attendance zone area, Gehrke said, “So many of our students need to work. And they are having to make a decision between ‘Do I help support my family or do I play a sport?’ … Our kids have to travel so much to compete where we currently are.” Poverty issues also affect community donations, fund-raising, program opportunities, Gehrke said.
Gehrke noted that DHS expects to see a fall-off in the number of incoming freshmen next year. “We are used to having about 350 to 370 come in in our incoming 9th-grade group,” she said. “ … We are looking at having 332 right now come in.”