Harlan will return to District 7 of Class A after four years away while Harlan County will remain in District 8 of 5A in the new Kentucky High School Athletic Associational football realignment draft released Tuesday.
The KHSAA reshuffles the state’s football playing schools every four years and the new alignment will run from 2015 to 2018, after it is finalized by the KHSAA board.
Harlan County has won the last four DIstrict 8 titles in 5A, the longest run for a local school since Lynch in the late 1960s, and will be favored for a fifth straight this fall in a district that includes Whitley County, Letcher Central and Perry Central.
There will be a slight change in 2015 with North Laurel changing places with Whitley County, which will join Lincoln County, Pulaski County, Southwestern and South Laurel in District 7. The only other change is Madison Southern moving out of District 7 to District 6.
The move of North Laurel could set up a Larkey Bowl game each year with Harlan County’s Tom Larkey facing his son, Chris, the North Laurel coach. Harlan County defeated North Laurel in two previous matchups, in 2009 and 2010, when the two were in the same district.
“Chris isn’t fussing about it because he’s going from a five-team district to a four-team district,” said the HCHS coach. “As far as us, it’s basically the same region, except for Madison Southern moving to District 6.”
Harlan County has made it to the state semifinals twice in the past four years, losing to Highlands in 2010 and Cooper in 2012.
If the Bears can win the region during the next realignment period they will likely see Highlands again in the semifinals. Highlands, the state’s most successful program over the past 30 years, moved to 4A in the current alignment but asked to switch back to 5A in the new alignment.
Harlan will see some changes in its district schedule with Hazard and Jenkins being replaced by two former district rivals, Williamsburg and Lynn Camp. Pineville, which is Harlan’s oldest rival, will move to District 7 with the Dragons.
“I thought there was a good chance it would happen,” Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said. “I don’t know if there is a big difference, but it puts us back with some familiar opponents and takes the mountain out of the mix.”
Hazard has won the last eight district championships with Harlan finishing second five straight years before falling to third last fall. Williamsburg will likely replace Hazard as the district heavyweight. The Jackets won their first regional title last season and advanced to the Class A state finals.