Return to Headlines

Big changes for football conference 12/14/21

Big changes for football conference

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


The Alma Airedales have played the Morrilton Devil Dogs every year in football but two since 1980. 


Unless they agree to play in nonconference play next season, the two longtime conference foes won’t be playing again anytime soon. 


Tuesday, the Arkansas Activities Association released its annual two-year alignment, with Alma playing most Northwest Arkansas schools and Morrilton moving into the cramped 5A-Central with former 5A-West foe Vilonia. 


Alma’s new football conference will include longtime conference foe Harrison and relatively new league foes Farmington, Pea Ridge, Clarksville, Shiloh Christian, Prairie Grove, and Dardanelle. 


Alma athletic director Doug Loughridge had said earlier he wasn’t sure if the new league would include nine teams (with Morrilton) or eight. 


Alma moving into a league with NWA schools Farmington, Shiloh Christian, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove has been talked about for years.


“I think those are good quality football programs we’re going to get,” Alma football coach Rusty Bush said. “Shiloh Christian, who will be the state runner-up and the state champion the year before that, they’re just going to reload. Then you get two quality 4A programs moving up. (Phil) Vega has done a great job at Dardanelle, and (Prairie Grove coach Danny Abshire) has been a consistent winner. It’s exciting to see some new teams come in there.”


Along with Vilonia and Morrilton, Greenbrier is moving out of the league as well. The Panthers are moving to the talented 6A-West — a league that will include perennial state football powers Greenwood, Pulaski Academy, and Little Rock Christian.


Bush said the Airedales will scrimmage Ozark next August and, as of now, will open the season with longtime rival Van Buren on Aug. 23. Bush has no idea who the other two non-conference opponents will be. 


“Now it’s time to get busy,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep taking care of Alma and worry about ourselves and get ready for 2022.”


“I think it’s kind of exciting; it’s a new start for us,” Alma High School Principal Brian Kirkendoll said of the new realignment.. “We’re playing schools that, No. 1, are closer to us, and No. 2, are closer to our size.


“I think it’s the best draw that we’ve had in a decade.”


It’s not the first time Alma’s been plucked from its familiar 5A-West surroundings. Back in 2014-15, the Airedales’ league included, among others, Little Rock Catholic, Bryant, and Conway. 


“We’re only a few years removed from playing Jonesboro (2014-15 playoff games),” Kirkendoll said. “ I realize they have other schools in that town, but the demographics aren’t the same. 


“I feel like this is the first time in a long time that we’re going to be playing schools with similar demographics.”


Although Greenbrier is moving out of the football conference, the Panthers will continue to battle in the 5A-West in other sports like basketball, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. 


“Vilonia’s out and we added Harrison, that’s the only change,” Alma volleyball coach Kimberly Weaver said. “As our schedule stands right now, we go to Harrison and Mountain Home in the same week.”


Alma’s new volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball, and softball conference will include mostly familiar schools: Greenwood, Van Buren, Greenbrier, Mountain Home, Siloam Springs, and Russellville — with Harrison stepping back into the league in place of Vilonia. 


“I think they’ll (Harrison) be another team that’s competitive,” Weaver said. “But I don’t think they’re like Greenwood or Greenbrier. At the same time, I’m sad to be losing Vilonia.”


“In my opinion, we will have the toughest conference in the state out of all classifications for soccer,” Alma soccer coach Cory Sturdivant said. “The addition of Harrison and their history of championship teams in soccer raises the stakes in the conference, especially on the girls side. 


“I fully expect Coach (Chris) Pratt to have both of his Harrison teams ready to compete with anyone in the conference.”