New area features basketball powers

Published 12:09 am Saturday, January 23, 2016

An area in class 2A should feature some of the best boys’ basketball in the entire state of Alabama over the next two years.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association released its newest classifications for all sports Wednesday. Among the biggest changes locally, Keith moved up to 2A where the Bears will take part in area 7, which figures to be one of the most competitive boys basketball areas statewide.

The area will include R.C. Hatch, Francis Marion, Keith and Aliceville, four schools with traditionally strong basketball programs. R.C. Hatch holds the state record with 10 championships and Francis Marion has six titles, which is good for third best in state history.

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Keith won its only championship in 1998 but remains a fixture near the top of the 1A rankings year in and year out. The Bears last made it to Birmingham for the state semifinals in 2011.

Rounding out the four is Aliceville, a team that always seems to be competitive. Last year the Yellow Jackets made it to the 3A central regional semifinals in Montgomery.

Aliceville made it to the central regional semifinals last year.

“You are looking at four traditionally strong basketball programs, so it’s going to be fun night in and night out,” said Keith athletic director Tommy Tisdale. “It’ll take the Keith, Hatch and Marion rivalry back to where it was. Now it means something other than bragging rights.”

Like the other AHSAA schools in the county, Keith never has a problem filling its gym when the Bears are playing a nearby rival.

However, the crowds have never been as big for area games because Keith has played Isabella, Sunshine and Akron for those contests over the last two years.

Tisdale said with Marion and Hatch in Keith’s area, the school should have large crowds for its biggest games. Traditionally, games against Francis Marion and R.C. Hatch have brought in some of Keith’s biggest crowds.

“These games will probably be Friday night games and they are going to be rivalry games and they are going to have some implications on the line,” Tisdale said. “That makes for some exciting January Friday nights in 2017. You’ve got to look forward to that.”

The only downfall to such a competitive area is that only two schools can qualify for the sub-regional round of the playoffs. The other two will see their season end during area tournament play.

“You’ve got four strong programs in one area and the way it’s set up, two of them are going to have to be home at the end of the season,” Tisdale said.