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If everything falls into place, the city of Dothan could have another Alabama High School Athletic Association team to pull for starting next year.

Northside Methodist Academy, located in north Dothan on Redmond Road, announced Friday it plans to petition to join the Alabama High School Athletic Association effective next school year (2020-21).

The move was approved Thursday night by the Northside Methodist school board. The Knights have been in the AISA the last eight years after being a member of the Alabama Christian Education Association.

“After months of investigation, prayer and discussion, last night (Thursday) the School Board for NMA made the decision to begin the process of moving our athletic affiliation from the AISA, where we have been for the last eight years, to the Alabama High School Athletic Association,” NMA pastor Bill Reif said in an email sent Friday night to NMA supporters and faculty and one obtained by the Dothan Eagle.

“I suspect this decision will bring with it some discomfort and adjustment, as those things seem to always accompany significant change. But the board believes this decision best positions the school to be true to its mission in the coming decade.”

Reif also indicated in his email that the decision “will not affect our long term affiliation with AISA concerning accreditation or other extra-curricular activities.”

It was not clear yet what classification the Knight athletic teams would be competing in the AHSAA. Northside Methodist, which has roughly 180 students this year in grades 9-11, is expected to be a borderline Class 2A or Class 3A program.

The AHSAA will announce its reclassification numbers and realignments for fall sports, such as football, volleyball and cross country, in December.

The Knights will continue to compete in the AISA this year. If approved by the AHSAA, it would begin to follow AHSAA rules on the first day of summer.

AHSAA spokesperson Ron Ingram said Northside Methodist would first have to apply to the association to join and the request would have to be approved by the AHSAA Central Board, which could meet next month.

In the interim, AHSAA officials will come to Dothan to visit Northside Methodist and school officials would also have to “make their pitch” of why they would like to join to Central Board members before the board’s meeting.

If approved, the move should help Northside Methodist cut down on its travel as well as improve its home gates, a major factor in the decision.

Currently in the AISA, Northside Methodist competes against only one program that is less than an hour away (Abbeville Christian) with two teams roughly an hour away (Pike Liberal Arts and Lakeside). Potentially in the AHSAA, they will have close to a dozen programs close to their size within 45 minutes, including potential city rivals Houston Academy and Providence Christian.

“This was a move that just made a lot of sense logistically for us with our location in the state and makes senses as we continue to grow as a school,” Northside Methodist head football coach Jason Hurst said.

“In a lot of sports, we are doing a lot of travel and this will benefit a lot of us, especially the spring sports, being able to play a lot of games close to home and it will help us build some fun, good rivalries that we can look forward to over the years.”

Hurst said a majority of parents and athletes were excited to move to a bigger association. The AHSAA has more than 400 schools where as the AISA has less than 100.

“There is a perception of legitimacy that comes with this move to the AHSAA,” Hurst said. “I think it will give our athletics and our entire school a sense of being more legitimate in the community.”

Coaches of different sports have already been preparing for the move.

“I am worried some of the schools are pretty physical and I wonder how that will affect my girls," NMA girls basketball coach Mike Burch said. "We are not the physical team that most of the public school teams in Alabama are and we are trying to get them to that point. They will have to be more physical next year.”

Reif said the decision to join the AHSAA also doesn’t reflect any changes in the values of the school.

“It especially does not affect our commitment to being a community where students' growing in their relationship with God while receiving an excellent education remains our highest priority,” Reif said.

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