Eastern Randolph makes shift to 1-A classification

Eastern Randolph’s Davonte Brooks runs the ball against Southwestern Randolph during a Piedmont Athletic Conference football game Oct. 1 in Ramseur. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

RAMSEUR – For a school with so much athletic success through the years, it might be strange to view Eastern Randolph as the little guy.

But that’s how the Wildcats are listed when it comes to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Eastern Randolph is a Class 1-A school, reflecting the group with the smallest enrollment.

“For 1-A, we’re not bad,” football coach Burton Cates said.

In football, the Wildcats are undefeated this season with two regular-season games remaining.

The school’s placement in Class 1-A was based on enrollment of about 600 students in high school.

Athletics director Foster Cates, an assistant football coach and Burton Cates’ son, said there are challenges with the reduced size of the student body.

“The biggest thing for us overall is numbers,” Foster Cates said. “The only thing that kind of changes a little bit: Do you have a JV team or not?”

The answer to that question will vary by sport.

Foster Cates said the school will have the same number of sports as in the past. In certain cases, there could be a quick path to varsity teams for athletes.

“If he’s good enough, he’s playing on varsity as a freshman,” he said.

Eastern Randolph’s first dive in enrollment came with the formation of the Providence Grove district, which had included parts of Eastern Randolph’s district. Providence Grove opened in 2008. Then with growing Uwharrie Charter Academy, more students shifted.

“You lose a couple here, a couple there,” Foster Cates said.

Eastern Randolph and UCA, which doesn’t field a football team, are the only Class 1-A schools in the Piedmont Athletic Conference, which consists of five other Class 2-A schools in Randolph County.

For the postseason, the Wildcats will be in Class 1-A.

“We won’t play a 1-A team until the playoffs,” said Burton Cates, whose team has held a No. 1 state ranking for Class 1-A teams.

The Wildcats had four non-conference football games – and another cancelled based on COVID protocols. Three of those matchups were against Class 3-A teams and the other against a Class 2-A school.

Eastern Randolph has won a pair of state championships in football. The Wildcats were in Class 3-A for the 1983 title.

Then for the championship in 2006, when there were eight classifications, the school was tagged for Class 3-AA, which was the group of larger schools with Class 3-A broken into smaller and larger brackets.

“Most of the teams we used to play are still 3-A,” Foster Cates said.

Despite the smaller size, the Wildcats can make a big impact. They’ve drawn huge support from their fans during the football season.

“I like it when the community really gets behind the team,” Burton Cates said. “They have great pride.”

By Bob Sutton

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