Reclassification brings concerns for Hatton athletics

Jan. 11—HATTON — When the AHSAA released its reclassifications for 2024-2026, it was a move that many at Hatton High School had expected, which makes it no less a challenge.

Beginning next school year, Hatton jumps from Class 2A to 4A, a leap that is causing uncertainty, according to those at the school.

Hatton will reside in Class 4A Region 7 with the likes of East Lawrence, West Morgan, Deshler and Brooks, which are the second, third and fourth biggest 4A schools in the state, according to the reclassification. Hatton is currently the smallest 4A school with 0.5 students separating the Hornets from 3A.

"Our biggest concern is those bigger schools like Brooks and Deshler coming," said Hatton High athletic director Chasity Carroll. "Our bathrooms only have three or four stalls each, and now we're bringing these bigger crowds in. That's the scary part because we don't know how to control it, like do we start making staff work games or who's going to pay for all this extra?"

When R.A. Hubbard closed in 2022, its students were dispersed across the county, but most landed at Hatton. At the beginning of 2022, Hatton had 206 students. Last month it had 279, according to the Alabama High School Athletic Association reclassification.

Hatton's football team will jump into one of 4A's toughest regions, Region 7. Region 7 will also now be a nine-team region after Brooks moved down to 4A after initially being put in 5A.

"We had a regional meeting at 8 o'clock that morning, and the schedule was set," said Hatton head football coach Denton Bowling. "We had talked about the possibility of Brooks and a couple of other schools coming in, but we didn't know it was going to come to fruition. But it got to about 4 o'clock that afternoon, and we had to meet again and redraw it out. Finding out you're in a nine-team region is difficult."

He compared the Hatton region football schedule with some of the toughest in the state and added that the Hornets are also facing Russellville and Westminster Christian as non-region opponents.

"I think as a coach and a leader it falls on my shoulders to keep the program from finding complacency," Bowling said. "But we're jumping two classifications. Russellville's got 100-plus members in their band; where are they going to fit? Our restrooms, the parking, I like to think someone in a leadership position is talking about all this."

Bowling said he knows he has a long road ahead, but he has confidence in himself and his staff to build success in 4A football.

However, according to Carroll, football is not her main concern, it's all of the other sports. She said the school's numbers may have gone up, but the number of athletes has stayed about the same.

"Our numbers are going up, but we need to keep our number of athletes up as well," she said. "So, when we gain these kids from these other schools that are joining us in seventh grade, we need them to have already been exposed to our athletic program so they want to be a part of it."

She said she's most concerned about the girls' sports but says girls in athletics are becoming a problem across the state.

"Football has done well, but we aren't getting as many female athletes as we used to," she said. "That's kind of been the issue, is that we've fielded three teams in each sport but we're borderline."

Both Bowling and Carroll believe it's because Hatton does not have a direct feeder school. A middle school would allow them to better spread their resources because it's hard to set an identity at three different feeder schools, said Carroll.

"Hatton High School is (grades) 7 through 12, where Lawrence County has a middle school, East Lawrence has a middle school," Bowling said. "We're packed out right now, but we also have some students that are only virtual that count against us. These are students that are going on our numbers that don't participate in athletics...."

But other improvements need to be prioritized at Hatton, too.

"Our gym is nowhere near big enough. There are plans drawn for a gym in the future, but how long does that take to build and what are we going to do in the meantime? We already don't have enough practice space," Carroll said. "We have six basketball teams that don't have the time or facilities, we have to borrow the elementary gym but there's a youth league. We grew faster than we thought, but we're here on year two of this expansion and not a lot's been done yet."

Carroll said the school will need the support of its community in the next few years as it gets accustomed to 4A athletics.

"This community's great as far as helping our programs, but we're going to need more parent involvement. We need parents to help get things ready, whether it's working parking gates or something else," she said. "Get out in your community and come support these kids because they need that now just as much as they will then. Your entry fees fund everything these kids have, and these kids deserve to have all the things these big schools have."

— or 256-340-2395. Twitter @CalebSuggs2