VIRGINIA BEACH-- A fight is brewing to change the new Virginia high school sports divisions after the largest realignment in decades.
The Virginia High School League Executive Committee voted in 2012 to divide member schools into six classifications: from the smallest schools in Group 1A to the largest in Group 6A.
“The primary purpose of re-classification was to equalize competitive fairness and the respective size of schools in VHSL sports and activities,” league spokesman Mike McCall told the Virginian Pilot following the change.
But because of the change, some student-athletes have to travel across the state to play games and local school districts say it's costing them thousands of dollars.
For example, Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk sent wrestlers to Salem, Virginia last season -- more than four hours away. Their state meet the season before was at Oscar Smith in Chesapeake.
According to local school officials, the additional travel is costing taxpayers.
"This is a tax. It is a tax on the school boards, because it’s costing them more money," Virginia Beach attorney and parent Kevin Martingayle said.
Districts forked over thousands of additional dollars last year for sports travel -- Chesapeake, $100,000; Hampton, $45,585. Norfolk, $35,541 just to hire bus drivers; Portsmouth, $18,045; Newport News, $8,790. Virgina Beach spent $19,372.
"We wouldn't be a good steward of the public trust if we weren't considering where our money was going," Virginia Beach school board member Leonard Tengco said.
Virginia Beach parent Ed McLaughlin would like the VHSL to make changes.
"I think it's worth fighting for," McLaughlin said. "It's just so disruptive to the kids."
The goal was to make the game fairer and smaller schools, but the switch eliminated classic rivalries and schools are losing money on ticket sales.
"The fans aren't coming out. For years and years these rivalries have developed," McLaughlin said.
Chesapeake Superintendent James Roberts in on the VHSL executive committee and was the only member to vote against the changes.
"The logic of it was sound -- play schools more your size. But we thought when the vote came up, it should have been implemented in a more reasonable fashion," Roberts noted.
VHSL executive director Ken Tilley explained the changes are working to make competition more fair -- the number of state champions went from 90 to 162 by adding more divisions -- but the new rules aren't set in stone.
"We are open to ideas, thoughts and suggestions," Tilley said. "We welcome thoughts on how to make it better."
Under VHSL rules, school leaders can organize to fight against new changes approved by the VHSL committee. If the majority of schools in the state vote against the new divisions, the VHSL committee would have to reconsider. But the each school gets only one vote.
"It should be one student,one vote. That means the majority would make the decisions that govern this topic in Virginia. For anyone who has a problem being taxed by a private entity, I suggest they complain to their school boards," Virginia Beach attorney and parent Kevin Martingayle stressed.
Click on the links if you would like to contact school board members in Hampton Roads about the VHSL division: