This week’s announcement of Arkansas’ new football conferences for the upcoming cycle has brought a new era for Junction City, Parkers Chapel and Smackover.
For years, the Dragons have been conference rivals with the Trojans and Bucks at different intervals due to shifts in classification, but now all three will be league foes at the same time.
The newly formed 5-3A features the trio of Union County schools along with Gurdon, Prescott, Horatio and Fouke.
“It’s interesting. We have been hearing all kinds of rumors as to if we would go east or west,” Smackover coach David Osborn said. “I was surprised that Harmony Grove didn’t end up in the same conference with us. We thought Smackover, PC, and Junction would be grouped together. It’s good to keep those games on the schedule. We have been playing them as non-conference wanting to develop that local rivalry. Now being in the same conference, the games will take on a whole other meaning.”
For Junction City, this is their second foray into the 3A ranks in recent years having competed at that classification for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“It is what it is,” Junction City coach Brad Smith said. “You play where they put you. Travel will be much different. As far as Smackover and Parkers Chapel, our rivalries will continue. Chapel has been in conference since ‘12 and we have played Smackover every year since ‘14.”
The trip to the 3A ranks is the first for the Trojans since they were there for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, the latter of which saw them make the playoffs for the first time in school history.
“We are excited about the new challenges this conference presents,” Parkers Chapel coach Elliot Jacobs said. “We get to continue our games with Junction City and now play Smackover in a conference game. Both schools are well-established programs.”
But with the new conferences came a major issue. How would the realignment affect non-conference schedules? Suffice it to say things have been hectic for coaches across the state.
“We have to completely start over,” Osborn said. “I have been working the phones trying to find non-conference games since we lost two of our three. Once the conferences have their meetings, it should all shake out and we can pick up the games needed. We are in pretty good shape, we just need to figure out one more date.”
Coaches had their first formal meeting on Wednesday with the conference schedule being set.
Parkers Chapel was able to get the bulk of their schedule set with home games in Week 0 and Week 2 against former 8-2A rivals Hampton and Bearden sandwiched around a Week 1 trip to Episcopal Collegiate, who is returning to 11-man football after competing in eight-man football.
But Jacobs said there is still a vacancy on the schedule he is looking to fill.
“We have one game left to fill and are looking for a Week 10 date,” Jacobs said.
Smith said he has a few dates that need to be filled.
“We lost Smackover, but have replaced them with Lafayette County,” Smith said. “Looking for one more date, either Week 2 or Week 8.”
At least for this upcoming cycle, the 8-2A is no more.
The only members from the league that stayed in 2A were Hampton and Bearden.
Both are still conference rivals in the new 4-2A, but their league rivals now comprise of Hazen, Carlisle, Baptist Prep, Episcopal Collegiate and England.
Should this be the end of the league, it leaves behind a legacy of dominance with Junction City and Fordyce winning multiple state titles with Strong adding one back in 2011. Bearden, Hampton and Rison also had runs to the state finals.
If there was a surprise with the new leagues, it was that Harmony Grove stayed in the 6-3A despite its closeness to the Union County schools.
The league is essentially the same as in the previous cycle with the exception of Smackover sliding to the 5-3A and McGehee moving up to 4A.
The Hornets have Fordyce, Rison, Barton, Pine Bluff Dollarway, Lake Village and Drew Central as conference rivals.
“Harmony Grove being split away from us was a surprise,” Osborn said. “The way AA is set up has quite a bit of travel in it for Hampton and Bearden, but with limited teams at that level, there wasn’t a whole lot of options.”