By Craig Harris for The News Examiner
The new region alignment recommendations that were released by the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) on Friday make many Sumner County football followers feel as if the clock has been turned back.
As was the case prior to District 9-AAA being exclusively comprised of Sumner County and Wilson County schools, 9-AAA will include of a mix of Sumner County and Metro Nashville schools for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Beech, Gallatin, Hendersonville and Station Camp remain in a league together, which will now be District 6-5A. It will also include Cane Ridge, Glencliff, Hillsboro and Hunters Lane.
“Some of them are familiar teams to us and to Sumner County where we played them before,” Gallatin head coach Mark Williams said. “You have some Metro schools coming in with Hunters Lane, Hillsboro, Cane Ridge and Glencliff. They play good football there.
“It’s going to change the dynamic of our region. You get used to playing some old teams in your district. You get to know them, the ins and outs of them. It’s a step in the process. We look forward to the new district.”
This fall was the sixth season that 9-AAA included Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central. However, all three of those schools are among Class 6A going forward, which will consist of the largest 32 schools in the state in Division I.
“We really enjoyed District 9-AAA the last six years,” Hendersonville head coach Bruce Hatfield said. “We’ll move on to a new region next year and do our best.
“We like the fact that it’s only three non-region games to schedule. We will probably try to keep our natural Wilson County rivals if possible.”
Hatfield was in his early tenure at Hendersonville when the Commandos moved into a region configuration similar to what it will be next season.
Beech, Gallatin and Hendersonville were in Region 5-5A along with Glencliff, Antioch, McGavock, Hunters Lane and Smyrna from 2001-04. Then, Gallatin and Hendersonville were joined in a region by those same four Metro schools along with Hillwood and Overton from 2005-08.
Lower gate receipts for Beech, Gallatin, Hendersonville and Station Camp could be forthcoming if past evidence is any indication, with Nashville’s public schools traditionally not having a fan following comparable to those three Wilson County schools.
“That’s hit or miss,” Williams said. “All we can do is when they turn the lights on, go out there on Friday nights. We hope there are a lot of people there. If not, we can’t control that.
“We always schedule to maximize to the benefit to our program. So, we’ll try to do that again this (coming) year.”
Cane Ridge has made the playoffs the last three seasons but has lost convincingly in the first round of the playoffs each time.
Hunters Lane hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2007. The Warriors have a 6-44 record over the last five seasons.
Glencliff last reached the postseason in 2011, suffering a 35-0 loss to Gallatin in the first round of the 5A playoffs. However, the Colts have won just four games over the last three seasons.
However, Hillsboro is an exception. The Burros are currently unbeaten and a top seed in the 5A playoffs.
Hillsboro has made three consecutive playoff appearances, suffering a 35-6 loss to Beech in the second round of the 5A playoffs in 2012.
Portland and White House will welcome some Nashville schools to their proposed new region as well, Region 5-4A. Those two Sumner County programs will be joined by Macon County, Maplewood, Pearl-Cohn and Springfield.
“I feel that Portland has been placed in an extremely competitive region,” Panther head coach Greg Cavanah said. “We will have to work diligently in order to compete with the caliber of teams within our region.”
Macon County combined to win just three games over the 2012 and 2013 campaigns but returned to the playoffs this season, suffering a 50-7 loss at Loudon in the first round. The Tiger program hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 campaign.
Springfield is having one of its best seasons of late, producing an 8-3 record and facing Hillsboro this Friday in a Class 5A second-round playoff game. Springfield – which is moving back down to Class 4A for the first time since 2008 – won its first playoff game since the 2006 season with last Friday’s 34-21 victory over visiting Gallatin.
Maplewood was the Class 4A state runner-up in both 2007 and 2011 and won a playoff game every season from 2007-2012. However, the Panthers have won just four games in each of the last two seasons and missed out on the playoffs this fall, for the first time since 2004.
Since 2005, Pearl-Cohn has made the playoffs eight times, twice reaching the semifinals and advancing to the quarterfinals on two other occasions. The Firebirds are currently 9-2 and in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“We’re going to be in a really competitive region,” White House head coach Jeff Porter said. “We better get ready if we hope to be able to compete.”
White House was in Class 3A when there was last a five-classification system (2008), but the program has been in 4A for the last six years.
Porter believes that his program will have some adjustments to make as there will likely be an enhanced level of speed and athleticism in its new region.
“We are in a similar situation we were in 2001, when we went to 4A (for the first time in the program’s history),” Porter said. “What I remember about that was that on every Friday night, teams had a player who could go the distance. You can’t take any plays off.
“It’s a difficult region. We have to do the best we can to step up to the challenge.”
Potentially-lessened gate proceeds will be a concern for the Blue Devils as well.
“Everybody wants to win, but we are all held accountable for making sure the bills are paid,” Porter said.
Westmoreland moves back down to Class 2A. The Eagle program was in 2A from 1993-2008, but it has been in 3A for the last six seasons.
“We look forward to competing in a district with these teams that are similar in enrollment,” Westmoreland third-year head coach Steve Harris said.
The Eagles will be joined in Region 4-2A by Cascade, Community, Eagleville, East Robertson, Forrest, Jackson County and Watertown. Since the TSSAA moved from three classes to five in 1993 (and then to six classes in 2009), Westmoreland has only ever had two of those programs – East Robertson and Jackson County – as regional foes.
“Obviously, one of the disadvantages is there will be quite a bit more travel,” Harris said. “We hope to continue to schedule a couple of big rivalry games out of district. Those have traditionally been our big-gate games in the past.”
Cascade has been in the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, reaching the Class 1A quarterfinals in 2008.
Community has managed a total of 11 wins over the last nine seasons combined.
Eagleville has made six consecutive playoff appearances, reaching the 1A quarterfinals in 2012.
Forrest has also made six straight playoff showings, but the Rockets have won just two playoff games over that span.
Jackson County defeated Eagleville, 14-13, in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs last Friday. The Blue Devils are in the postseason for the fifth consecutive season, but last week’s win was the first playoff victory over that five-year span.
East Robertson has made the playoffs just one time over the last nine seasons, in 2009.
Watertown qualified for the playoffs five times over the last eight years but has just one postseason victory during that span. The Purple Tigers missed out on the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, despite producing a 5-5 record this fall.
The regional football alignments were prepared by the TSSAA staff and will be presented to the TSSAA Board of Control on Thursday for approval. Some modifications can be made prior to approval by the Board of Control.
Sports reporter Craig Harris can be contacted at 575-7138.
TSSAA Region Football Recommendations for 2015-16
Region 6-5A: Beech, Cane Ridge, Gallatin, Glencliff, Hendersonville, Hillsboro, Hunters Lane, Station Camp
Region 5-4A: Macon County, Maplewood, Pearl-Cohn, Portland, Springfield, White House
Region 4-2A: Cascade, Community, Eagleville, East Robertson, Forrest, Jackson County, Watertown, Westmoreland