Shaleak Knotts

Monroe High junior Shaleak Knotts, right, had six interceptions in 2019, including this one against Parkwood. Knotts, a 4-star recruit with 18 Division 1 football scholarship offers (247sports.com), is among the athletes who will be impacted by realignment in 2021-22. Monroe is expected to drop from 3A to 2A starting next fall.

The athletic landscape in Union County will look very different come the start of the 2021-22 school year, as five local schools are projected to make the jump from 3A to 4A.

Realignment is led by the NCHSAA and happens every four years. This time around, the governing body has made several changes to the four classifications, including moving Weddington, Marvin Ridge, Sun Valley, Piedmont and Cuthbertson up from 3A to 4A starting next school year.

NCHSAA schools are classified based on weighted criteria, including a school’s first month Average Daily Membership number (50%), the average of the previous three years of Identified Student percentage numbers (25%) and the average of the previous three years of NCHSAA State Cup points (25%).

These moves are preliminary and are subject to change. NCHSAA member schools can still submit concerns and desired adjustments to the initial plan, which the governing body will then consider before making a final decision.

Weddington, Marvin Ridge, Sun Valley, Piedmont and Cuthbertson will join Porter Ridge as Union County schools at the 4A level. The NCHSAA has also done away with subclassifications, so there will not be a 4A and 4AA playoffs in football as there have been in previous seasons.

More than one athletic director from the five schools moving from 3A to 4A have expressed interest in a new 4A conference that would consist of just six Union County schools — Cuthbertson, Marvin Ridge, Piedmont, Porter Ridge, Sun Valley and Weddington. The NCHSAA has yet to release any information on what the conferences could look like beginning in 2021-22.

Among the other teams in the 4A West classification are Charlotte powerhouses Catholic, Butler, Mallard Creek and Myers Park, as well as bigger schools in some of the state’s other heavily-populated areas (Greensboro and Winston-Salem).

There were two schools who competed in the Southern Carolina Conference last season who did not make the move up to 4A. Parkwood will stay at 3A, while Monroe is expected to move back down to 2A after making the jump up four years ago.

In perhaps the biggest surprise of realignment, Central Academy is slated to move up to 3A and join Parkwood as the only Union County teams in the classification. While there hasn’t been any official word yet, a new conference could consist of Parkwood — which now goes by the Wolf Pack — and CATA as well as schools from Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Davidson counties.

At the 2A level, Monroe would rejoin Forest Hills, adding significance to contests between two of the County’s biggest rivals. They are likely be joined in a conference by Anson, Mount Pleasant, North Stanly and West Stanly.

Union Academy was the only other school besides Forest Hills and Porter Ridge projected to stay in its respective classification. The Cardinals are expected to remain the County’s only 1A school.