Editor’s note: This is the 13th of 18 installments intended to help readers, athletes, coaches and parents become better-acquainted with Burke County’s new prep conference opponents as each of Burke’s four high schools join separate leagues this fall.
WEST JEFFERSON — Since its start in 1999, Ashe County High School has known just one conference.
That was the year Ashe Central, Beaver Creek and Northwest Ashe consolidated and the Huskies joined the Mountain Valley 2A/3A Conference. And there they’ve been ever since, even as the league was straight 2A from 2001-09 and a 1A/2A split from 2009-21.
But things are about to change in a big way for Ashe as the school makes the leap to 3A, departs the MVC for the first time ever and joins up with Freedom in a league held in high historical regard by Burke County — the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference.
This will be the first union of Ashe and Burke in a prep sports conference since at least the 1960s, and likely ever. Ashe County’s three former high schools were in the District 7 North 2A Conference in 1969 and stayed there until 1977 before joining the Blue Ridge Conference as a 2A (1977-85), then a 1A (1985-97) before finishing up their histories in a three-team Ashe County 1A Conference in the final two years before consolidation.
The Huskies enter the NWC with three straight conference championships in football on their resume, finishing 7-1 (7-0) this past spring, 7-5 (6-1) in 2019 and 10-3 (7-0) in 2018. It’s a notable accomplishment, even for a team jumping up classifications.
“I think three straight conference championships does speak for itself,” said Freedom football coach Justin Hawn. “That shows how well-coached they are, how good their scheme is and that the sort of things they do on an everyday basis seem to be working for them.
“They’re definitely going to be a new challenge in the new conference. They’re a new style of team as an air raid team. That provides another style of offense that you’ve got to prepare for. We’ve got about everything you could have in the conference.”
Hawn has gone up against Ashe before in a playoff game when he was the defensive coordinator for Shelby. He also knows some members of the Huskies’ coaching staff, he said.
Ashe also won a conference championship in boys basketball last season, going 10-4 overall and 10-3 in the MVC. It marked a big step forward for a squad that had finished fifth, sixth and fifth in an eight-team conference in the preceding three seasons.
The girls basketball team managed a second-place Mountain Valley finish in 2019-20, surrounded by mid-pack finishes of fourth in the prior two seasons and sixth in the following.
The Huskies’ soccer programs were solid over the past four-year alignment, combining for six podium finishes and a fourth-place outcome in their seven opportunities. The girls team was second this past season with an 11-3 league record, something the boys equaled in the fall of 2019.
Next up: West Lincoln, new Catawba Valley 2A Conference opponent for East Burke.
Justin Epley can be reached at email@example.com.