The executive committee of the Virginia High School League decided Wednesday to delay until December its vote on a redistricting plan that will determine the athletic futures of Loudoun Valley and Stone Bridge.

The decision surprised not only the Bulldogs and Vikings but also the Northern Region's principals and athletic directors, who voted less than a week ago to accept the VHSL's initial recommendation that the two Loudoun County schools be admitted into their region next school year. That would have placed Stone Bridge in the AAA Liberty District and Loudoun Valley in the AAA Concorde.

"I was pretty much shocked," said Stone Bridge Athletic Director Dave Hembach. "I thought it was a done deal, at least for the next two years. We had all accepted it; we were definitely caught off guard."

The Northern Region now is being asked to explore further the idea of a combination district that would allow Stone Bridge and Loudoun Valley to remain in the AA Dulles District during the regular season and move into the Northern Region for the playoffs, a proposal that was rejected by the Northern Region last week. The plan would alleviate concerns about travel schedules and missed class time -- particularly for the Vikings -- that Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III expressed to the committee Wednesday.

"There are already some combination districts in place, they work, and it seemed to be that the Northern Region turned its back on that idea altogether," said Ken Tilley, executive director of the VHSL. "I think the executive committee was surprised and disappointed with that. They feel that a combination district can solve the problems up there and were awfully surprised that the schools did not see fit to pursue a combination district. For the Northern Region just not to agree with that is not a good enough reason, not an adequate explanation for turning it down."

Robinson Athletic Director Mike McGurk said after last week's meeting that "the region felt that if they are members of our region, they should be playing region competition on a daily basis." On Thursday he reiterated that the region thinks accepting the Bulldogs and Vikings during the playoffs alone is asking too much.

"At this point, I think people are a little frustrated about not having a decision made," McGurk said. "We voted, and they were cleared to come in, which is what the VHSL has originally proposed. To now be asked to go back and look at it again is heartbreaking. The sentiment in the region is we would just like to know who we're playing next year so we can make our schedules and play the games."

The executive committee is not scheduled to meet again until Dec. 8, but Tilley said a decision on redistricting could come sooner via mail ballots if a proposal is deemed acceptable to all parties.

"From a competitive standpoint, it's better to play in the district where you'll play your playoffs," Hembach said. "If our numbers dictate that we go AAA, then I think we should play AAA. But if it's a matter of lost class time, then maybe it would be better to play AA.

"The bottom line is the executive committee wants a combination district. And if the directive from them is to make a combination district work, then we'll find a way to do it. But I hope we do it quickly. We have to move on with scheduling. To me, right now we're already late."