by Chris Hunt
Lake Norman Charter’s lengthy search for an N.C. High School Athletic Association-sanctioned conference concluded this winter when the Huntersville school announced it would join the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference.
Beginning next fall, the Knights will play in a nine-team league, which includes Class 1A schools Bessemer City, Challenger, Cherryville and Highland Tech and 2A programs East Lincoln, Lincolnton, North Lincoln and West Lincoln.
Since joining the NCHSAA, the Knights competed as a 1A independent because it applied to the association after conference realignment two years ago. At the time, being an independent program made sense to allow the sports teams time to build a solid foundation.
But playing outside a conference also presented logistical challenges. Without the luxury of league opponents, Lake Norman Charter athletics director Matt Schlegel was challenged to schedule, at most, 23 games (the NCHSAA maximum per season) for each sport. Sometimes, that meant traveling long distances or playing larger schools, including Class 4A programs, to fill the schedule.
“Joining the Southern Piedmont conference fits our needs,” said Schlegel. “Scheduling just became a lot easier because we can count on at least 16 games from the conference and only need to find six or seven non-conference games. It seems to work out best for everyone.”
Joining the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A also means Lake Norman Charter athletes can earn all-conference and all-region awards. And instead of teams playing their way into the NCHSAA playoffs as a wild card, the Knights will compete for one of the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A conference’s automatic playoff bids. Lake Norman Charter would also become eligible to host conference and state playoff tournaments, something Schlegel hopes to do in the near future.
The Southern Piedmont 1A/2A isn’t necessarily a permanent home for the Knights, who will have two years until the NCHSAA reexamines its conference realignment plan in 2013. At that time, the Knights – just like any other NCHSAA athletic program – could be placed in another conference that better suits the school’s needs.