The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

June 8, 2014

District play likely to be just as rugged for Enid in new 6A

ENID, Okla. — The prevailing wisdom is the splitting of Class 6A for prep football in Oklahoma into two new classifications will make things much easier for schools such as Enid starting this season.

Not so fast, says Enid coach Steve Chard.

“I guess the perception is that it’s supposed to be easier,” Chard said, adding his fellow coaches that he has discussed it with agree that perception does not necessarily jibe with the reality of the matter of the new districts. “The Division 2 split to me is not any easier in any way,” he said.

The splitting of the 32 teams that previously made up the largest classification into two 16-team Class 6A divisions (now identified as 6A1 and 6A2) was approved prior to this season by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities  Association.

The change was brought about by a desire to see a competitive balance introduced to a class that has seen its football championship claimed by either Tulsa Union or Jenks in each of the past 18 years.

Both divisions of the new 6A will compete for their own state titles this season. Enid, with an enrollment of 1,730 is the second-largest school (behind Lawton at 1,733) in the new 6A2 and will remain in 6A2 for at least the next two years until the new ADM (annual daily membership) is calculated.

While Enid now competes in a new District 6A2-2, the schedule really will not feel all that different than last season, which comes back to Chard’s original point the new 6A2 will not be a cakewalk.

He points out six of the top eight teams from Enid’s district last season are now part of the new 6A2.

Enid’s new district consists of the Plainsmen, Putnam City West, Choctaw, Lawton, Lawton Eisenhower, Midwest City and Stillwater. U.S. Grant technically is part of Enid’s district but will be playing as an independent for the next four years and not as part of 6A, which means the district loses what would have been its weakest member. The Generals finished 0-10 last season.

The other half of 6A2 consists of Bartlesville, Sand Springs, Muskogee, Ponca City, Bixby, Sapulpa, Booker T. Washington and Claremore, which is moving up from Class 5A.

And while Enid’s schedule will free it from numerous trips to the east side of the state, it still has a ring of familiarity.

“We are playing the same people,” Chard said. Indeed, Enid’s non-district slate looks awfully familiar, opening at home against Ponca City, then hitting the road to Sand Springs and home against Bartlesville. A bright spot is both Lawton schools will be making the long trip to Enid.

And there is a bit of a quirkiness to the schedule with U.S. Grant opting out as Enid will host Class 5A Tahlequah in Week 7, filling what would have been an open week with Grant’s absence.

While Enid rids itself of Union from its district slate, it also welcomes in two of the top teams in 6A2 in Lawton, which finished 11-1 last season, and Midwest City, which went 9-3.

“We’re trading out Union and Owasso for Midwest City and Lawton,” Chard said. “But right now, Lawton and Midwest City have seven of the top 30 rated players in Oklahoma. They (Lawton and Midwest City) are going to be really good, so I don’t think the district is going to be any easier at all. Not at all.”

But Chard is not shying away from the challenge, and looks forward to it, eager to improve on back-to-back 3-7 campaigns in his first two seasons as EHS head coach.

“There’s going to be a lot of close games,” Chard said. “There were some close games last year ... that were one possession games except for Union (a 52-0 loss).” Chard believes casual observers may not readily recognize the improvements made from his first year to last season, if focused solely on Enid’s record.

“We got blown off the field four times my first year and we improved we thought a lot (last year) in a really hard league, which we are still in,” he said. “We expect to be able to win those games this year with a senior quarterback (Fred Lawrence) and a really good senior tailback (Raheem Mitchell). When we get the quarterback run game going, it can be hard to stop.”

The hoped-for improvement could see the Plainsmen make their first state playoff appearance since 2009, and while the new districts may not be any easier, Chard acknowledges the postseason will be a little more balanced.

“The best thing about it is that if you can get in the playoffs, even if you’re fourth ... there’s a better matchup for you,” Chard said. “You can be fourth and going to Booker T. Washington or Bixby instead of Jenks. There is no doubt the playoff scenario is better and the thing is you only have to win three (playoff) games to win the whole thing.”

But getting there still will be a challenge, especially in the top class in Oklahoma football.

“There are no easy ones, and that to me is the consistent difference with 6A than any other class,” Chard said. “There is not one week where you are playing a team that has 15 players and can’t line up.”

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