The upcoming 2020-21 high school sports seasons are scheduled to be the final seasons under the current alignment, meaning that the conferences as we know them today could go away.
Since 2013, all 2A schools in Lincoln County have been paired up with either all or the majority of the 2A schools in Catawba County, making for short travel, good gates and traditional rivalries.
East Lincoln, West Lincoln, Lincolnton, Maiden, Bandys and Newton-Conover have been in the same 2A conference since 2013, and North Lincoln joined the South Fork Conference in 2019 after spending four years in the North Piedmont 3A/4A league.
Bunker Hill spent four seasons in the Southern District-7 2A Conference from 2013 through 2016, before moving to the Northwestern Foothills 2A. And West Caldwell was also a member of the SD-7 2A prior to 2017, when they moved up to 3A.
Today, Lake Norman Charter rounds out the eight schools that make up the South Fork 2A Conference, joining the four Lincoln County schools, along with Bandys, Maiden and Newton-Conover.
In the past seven seasons, with the majority of these teams together, six different schools have won or shared a conference football championship.
But it wasn’t always that balanced.
East Lincoln was a perfect 21-0 in the SD-7 2A from 2013 to 2015. The Mustangs edged out Maiden by one game for the conference title in 2013, then held off Lincolnton by the same margin in 2014 and 2015 for the three-peat.
Lincolnton and West Caldwell shared the 2016 SD-7 championship with 6-1 records, ending the four-year run of the league.
Maiden ran the table in 2017 to capture the first South Fork 2A Conference title, edging out rival Newton-Conover by one game, and Bandys, who went 3-4 in 2017, came out of nowhere to go 7-0 in 2018 and capture the SF2A championship by a single game over North Lincoln.
Then last season, North Lincoln built on their momentum from the previous season, going a perfect 7-0 in league play and winning the conference title by two games over Maiden and Newton-Conover. That marked the first time in these seven years that the league championship was decided by more than one game.
So what happens in 2020?
North Lincoln would appear to be the favorite to repeat as conference champs, something that hasn’t been done since East Lincoln’s three-year run.
Challengers for the top spot could be Newton-Conover, who returns more All-Conference players than any other team in the SF2A, and Maiden who hasn’t had a sub-.500 conference record since 2014.
East Lincoln hopes to improve on last year’s 4-3 league record, and West Lincoln has lots of momentum after going 9-5 in conference play over the past two seasons.
The unknowns in the race for the championship appear to be Bandys and Lincolnton. The Trojans will enter the season with first-year head coach Jason Barnes, while the Wolves look to make strides in year two under Joe Glass.
And although Lake Norman Charter did not win a conference game in 2019, most coaches will tell you that they were a much improved team.
No matter what, it should be a good conference race to the end.