Avoyelles leaves 3-AAA; joins Bunkie in AA

High schools reclassified for 2019 sports seasons

High school football will look a little different in 2019 as the Louisiana High School Athletic Association shuffled the cards with its reclassification for the next few seasons.

The big difference is the Avoyelles Mustangs moving down from Class AAA to Class AA. The ‘Stangs leave arch-nemesis Marksville behind but will now butt heads with its previously non-district rival Bunkie Panthers.

Classification is based on a school’s enrollment -- not a school’s traditional strength and success in sports, no matter how hard coaches with a powerhouse in their district would wish it so.

The enrollment figure does not necessarily determine the number of boys a school has on its football team. Some AA schools have more players -- and better teams -- than some AAAA teams.

NEW DISTRICT MAKEUP

Under the new districts, Avoyelles and Bunkie are in District 4-AA, which will include Menard for football and Avoyelles Public Charter and Rapides High for non-football sports.

Those three schools will be lumped in with the new 4-school District 3-AA to create a 7-member football district.

Two of the 3-AA schools are Many High and Red River High, both being traditionally strong teams. The other district opponents are Lakeview and Winnfield. Bunkie played all of those in the past few years. Winnfield used to be in 3-AAA with Avoyelles and Marksville.

This means there will be six district games and four non-district games.

For both Avoyelles and Bunkie, one of their non-district games is a ‘must.”

In fact, 3-AAA’s Marksville could be considered an “unofficial member” of District 4-AA’s football club.

MHS will open its season against Bunkie in the traditional Catskin game and then face-off against bitter rival Avoyelles in Week 2.

Since both the Tigers and Menard found themselves with an odd number of opponents under the new districts, they agreed to play each other in Week 8.

There are some major changes in 3-AAA, which will have only five schools competing for the district title next season.

Joining Marksville from this year are co-champions Jena and Caldwell.

Marksville will not have Bolton and Peabody to beat up on next season as both of those teams moved up to Class AAAA.

The Tigers will see the return of an old foe, Buckeye High, coming back to AAA after two years as a Quad-A school. The Grant Cougars are also coming back to 3-AAA after a few years in the AAAA ranks.

COACHES’ COMMENTS

“I hated to lose Avoyelles in our district,” Tigers Coach J.T. Dunbar said.

He said District 3-AAA is left “with two other strong teams to challenge us, in Jena and Caldwell.”

He said Peabody was good some years and bad some years and Avoyelles was always a tough game even if Marksville usually won.

Marksville will open its district season with Grant and host Buckeye for Homecoming. It will then play Menard in a non-district game and close the season against Jena and Caldwell.

“I’m excited about it,” Avoyelles Coach Andy Boone said. “We need to be in AA. I don’t think we will ever be going back up to AAA.”

Avoyelles -- like Bunkie -- was on the cusp between being one of the smallest AAA teams or one of the largest AA teams.

“Bunkie and we are almost exactly the same enrollment,” Boone said.

Boone said there will be a lot of travel for football with Many in Sabine Parish, Red River in Coushatta (Red River Parish) and Lakeview in Campti (Natchitoches Parish).

“I believe we can compete with everyone in our district,” Boone said. “Many will always be tough. They are the only football school in Sabine Parish and can draw students parishwide. They have 110 players on their team.”

Even if Many continues its habit of winning the district title, “the fact is, you can’t get very far in the playoffs without going through Many eventually,” he noted.

The Mustangs will start their 2019 season against Beau Chene from Arnaudville, then play Marksville and St. Edmund of Eunice before beginning district play against Winnfield. Avoyelles will host Lakeview for Homecoming, play Port Barre in a non-district game and then finish the season against district opponents Many, Bunkie, Red River and Menard.

Boone said he tried to schedule more familiar 3-AAA teams to keep some rivalries going, but Jena, Bolton and Peabody declined.

“I am glad we will be able to face some new schools,” he added.

He believes the change will be good for the football program and the other athletic programs at the school.

Bunkie Coach Nick Pujol said it was a toss-up as to whether the Panthers would be one of the smallest AAA schools or one of the largest AA schools.

“I am pleased with our placement in AA,” Pujol said. “I think it will be good for our program.”

He is particularly pleased with the non-football district teams, which are all in Avoyelles and Rapides parishes.

“There are some long travel distances in the football season that I would have preferred not to have,” he added.

He said he is looking forward to having Avoyelles as a district rival.

“We usually have competitive games,” Pujol said. “The players know each other and it is easy for them to get pumped up to play each other.”

Bunkie will start the season against Marksville and then play St. Edmund-Eunice, Mamou and Block high schools before going into the district season against Red River, Menard, Winnfield, Avoyelles, Lakeview and the season finale against Many.

Pujol said he really liked playing Many first in the district games “because you get the toughest game out of the way first.”

Playing the Many Tigers last, and just before playoffs begin, will be a new challenge he said his Panthers will have to be ready for.

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