Old and new: N.C. High School Athletic Association realignment creates familiar and unfamiliar conferences for local teams

By Richard Walker

Every four years, the N.C. High School Athletic Association realigns its member schools into conferences and sometimes different classifications.

Future North Carolina A&T Sports Hall of Famer James Bowden (10) is shown in a 1990 Ashbrook game against Huss; Ashbrook and Huss have been league rivals every year since 1970.

For the schools from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties, the upcoming setup involves some changes that are completely new for some while also leaving many long-standing rivalries intact.

The area conference that changed the least is the Big South 3A Conference with the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference a combination of two leagues from recent alignment.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln County schools were split into two new conferences and three local charter schools also are being placed into new leagues.

When the Big South Conference was born in 2001, it was the combination of the old Southwestern 3A and old MEGA 7 4A conferences.

Entering the 2021-25 alignment, four of its members have been in the league from the start – Ashbrook, Forestview, Huss and North Gaston – and the other members have a long relationship with the league; South Point has been a member for all but four years of the league, Crest for all but eight years, Kings Mountain for all but 12 years and Cramer since the school opened in 2013.

The league members who have been league rivals the longest are Ashbrook and Huss (every year since 1970), North Gaston and South Point (all but the last four years since 1973) and Crest and Kings Mountain (33 years since 1968, including the last 12).

When the Southern Piedmont Conference was born in 1997, it was formed out of four conferences – Western Piedmont 2A, Southwestern 3A, Apple Country 2A and Southern District 7 2A.

This time it is a combination of the existing Southern Piedmont and three teams from the Southwestern 2A.

It’s keeping Gaston County rivals Bessemer City, Cherryville and Highland Tech together to extend long streaks; The three schools have been in the same league since 2002 and Bessemer City and Cherryville have been in the same league since 1973.

It’s also keeping Cleveland County rivals Burns and Shelby together; The two schools have shared the same conference in all but 10 years since 1968.

East Gaston, which was a 4A school as recently as 2013, has at various times shared a conference with Bessemer City, Burns, Cherryville and Shelby since it opened in 1972.

The Catawba Valley 2A Conference is being restarted for the first time since it had an eight-year run from 2005-14. And all but the Lincoln County schools (Lincolnton and West Lincoln) have been previous members. Lincolnton and West Lincoln have been league rivals every year since 1993.

The Western Foothills 3A Conference is being restarted for first time since 2001.

Back then, East Lincoln also had Foard, Hickory, North Iredell and St. Stephens as league rivals.

This time, West Iredell and North Lincoln have been added. And East Lincoln and North Lincoln have now been conference rivals in 12 of the last 16 years.

Gastonia’s Piedmont Community Charter is in a brand new league – the Metro 8 1A Conference – with seven other schools with whom they’ve never been been league rivals before.

And Gaston County’s Mountain Island Charter and Lincoln Charter are league rivals for the first time in the Catawba Shores 1A/2A Conference.

Mountain Island Charter also is in a football-only league with former league rivals Huntersville Christ the King, Community School of Davidson and Pine Lake Prep along with three Forsyth County schools – Kernersville Bishop McGuinness, Winston-Salem Carver and Winston-Salem Prep.

Here are the full memberships of high school conferences involving schools from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties:

Metro 8 1A Conference
Apprentice Academy
Bradford Prep
Cabarrus Charter
Carolina International
Corvian Community School
Piedmont Community Charter
Queen’s Grant
Sugar Creek Charter

Catawba Shores 1A/2A Conference
Christ the King (1A)
Langtree Charter (1A)
Mountain Island Charter (1A)
Community School of Davidson (2A)
Lincoln Charter (2A)
Pine Lake Prep (2A)

1A/2A Football-only conference
Bishop McGuinness (1A)
Winston-Salem Carver (1A)
Christ the King (1A)
Mountain Island Charter (1A)
Winston-Salem Prep (1A)
Community School of Davidson (2A)
Pine Lake Prep (2A)

Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference
Bessemer City (1A)
Cherryville (1A)
Highland Tech (1A)
Thomas Jefferson (1A)
Burns (2A)
East Gaston (2A)
Shelby (2A)

Catawba Valley 2A Conference
Bunker Hill
East Burke
West Caldwell
West Lincoln

Big South 3A Conference
Kings Mountain
North Gaston
South Point

Western Foothills 3A Conference
East Lincoln
North Iredell
North Lincoln
St. Stephens
West Iredell