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Proposal to combine JV football rejected 3-2

Proposal to combine JV football rejected 3-2
Staff Reporter
The Obion County School Board has rejected a recommendation to combine four middle school football teams into countywide grade-level teams.
The proposal was voted down by a 3-2 vote after considerable discussion Monday night during a called school board meeting at Obion County Central High School.
The Messenger never received notice of the called meeting and it was not published in the newspaper. When asked about notification, school board officials claimed an announcement was faxed to the paper and local radio stations last week. The called meeting and its agenda were not posted under the board meetings section on the school system’s website either.
The only item on the board’s agenda Monday night was to consider a recommendation from the Athletic Advisory Committee regarding middle school football alignment.
Obion County Director of Schools David Huss said the recommendation came about this past year when Black Oak and Ridgemont had to combine to form a football team because there were not enough student athletes at Black Oak to field the team. When the season ended, the Athletic Advisory Committee discussed the possible combining of middle school football programs from OCCHS’ four feeder schools — Black Oak, Hillcrest, Lake Road and Ridgemont — to form an eighth-grade team, a seventh-grade team and a sixth-grade team.
Huss said board members were “privy” to being at some meetings held to discuss the matter, including those at Hillcrest, Lake Road and Ridgemont and a combined meeting at OCCHS.
As a result, Huss said the recommendation from the Athletic Advisory Committee — which includes school board member Fritz Fussell as the board’s representative — would be to change to the combined format for middle school football.
Fussell said the issue was brought to the board’s attention last year when participation numbers were declining and it became apparent the board needed either to pair Black Oak with another school or make some other decision regarding combining teams.
Before airing his concerns, he said any time the board makes a decision which is going to affect a significant number of children both now and in the future, community support is vital. He said parents and middle school coaches were encouraged to hold individual meetings to seek input and he tried to speak to as many parents as possible to find the best solution.
Fussell expressed concern about the issue being “about the numbers.”
“I guess one reason I brought this up is I feel it’s about the numbers,” he said. “I don’t feel that it’s about what it’s going to do to the high school program. And I think in a lot of ways we’ve turned things from the numbers side to what it’s going to do for our high school program.”
He said he would hope the recommendation would help the high school numbers and the football program, but “I don’t see that that’s a done deal.”
“And if I really felt like that was a done deal, I’d make a motion to make every sports program we’ve got combined,” he said.
Fussell said people have indicated there is no numbers problem with participation in basketball and other sports, but “if it’s a numbers situation, then that’s what it is; but if it’s whether we’re going to be in the state playoffs or bring championships to the high school, then every sport deserves that.”
“My thought is, we’ve got to look at the numbers,” he added.
Fussell said it was brought out during individual meetings that 31 eighth-graders played football this year. Examining the numbers for next year, he said they are looking at 43 eighth-graders and 55 seventh-graders.
He said in every meeting he attended, one question was consistently asked: Is my child going to get to play? He said looking at the numbers, he doesn’t believe they can guarantee it.
Fussell said, however, he believes the high school coaching staff and head coach need to be heavily involved in the junior high program and the fundamentals.
“But as far as these numbers, there’s a lot of concern,” Fussell said. “And I don’t think I have been able to answer the questions that I should have.”
He said yet another question posed is who would be in charge of a junior high combined program.
“I just personally feel like that we haven’t answered all the questions that the community wants,” he added.
Obion County School Board chairman Brian Rainey said there are some questions which can’t be answered until the program moves forward.
Board member Tim Partin said in looking at numbers, if they look back at the eighth-grade group of 31 players, there were likely about 50 of them when they were sixth-graders. He said traditionally, especially in football, there is a big drop in numbers between sixth and seventh grades and between seventh and eighth grades, followed by a bigger drop in freshmen and maybe only six or seven still playing by the time they are seniors.
Partin said the consensus is everyone wants the sixth-graders pulled out “because a sixth-grader has no business playing seventh- and eighth-grade football,” which compounds the numbers issue.
Fussell said they still must look at the Black Oak situation, adding it’s not fair to the BO players for them to be moved from school to school and not know who they will be teamed with.
“The numbers issue is what I’ve concentrated on,” he said.
Partin said that is also what his decision is totally based upon, but he said it “absolutely” will also have an impact at the high school level.
Partin said a lot of people contacted him with questions, which he answered to the best of his ability, and he said he didn’t have anyone opposed to combining and had several in favor of it.
He said there are good and bad points in every decision and the board’s responsibility is “to give (the students) the best chance to be successful, either it being in the classroom or athletics.”
“And, to me, combining gives them the best opportunity to be successful,” Partin added.
Fussell said there are other questions and concerns, though, such as how combining teams would affect the cheerleaders, other sports, team travel arrangements and early start times for nights when two games are played, particularly those out of town.
Board member Willis Easley said the questions he fielded included costs to the county and when students will get to play.
Rainey said his decision is also based on the numbers, explaining he represents the entire county but Black Oak is specifically in his district. He said he is concerned about the numbers and Black Oak students deserve a chance to play, adding that the school being combined with Ridgemont this year worked well.
He informed the board he had spoken with board members Diane Sanderson and David Lamb, who could not attend Monday night’s meeting. He said Ms. Sanderson reported only positive feedback about the situation and Lamb, who represents the South Fulton area, had not heard from anyone since SF’s schools are not affected by the proposal.
“I talked to 30 or 35 people and three said they didn’t want it. Everyone else was excited about it,” Rainey said.
The vote
After lengthy discussion, Rainey made the official motion to combine the Lake Road, Black Oak, Hillcrest and Ridgemont football programs and to have sixth-grade only, seventh-grade only and eighth-grade only teams. It was seconded by Partin.
The motion failed by a 3-2 vote, however, with Fussell, Easley and board member Scott Northam voting against it. Only Rainey and Partin voted in favor.
Afterward, Fussell said he would like to continue to review the options discussed and believes something can be done which will be constructive for middle school and high school programs. He said he hopes OCCHS’ new football coach will be heavily involved in the middle school programs.
Partin noted there are currently four different coaches teaching four different techniques for the four feeder schools’ football programs. Rainey said by combining the programs, it would have put all the middle school players in one central location with the same coaches.
There was some question about the high school coach not having more input in the middle school programs in the past and Northam said the reason is because it is demeaning to those coaches in not allowing them to do their jobs and coach the way they see fit.
Northam also said the issue needs to be kept open for discussion in the future.
Partin said the thought process for combining programs would be “to get everybody on the same page” without having to start over when they enter high school as freshmen and spending the first couple of years breaking junior high habits. Fussell contended it goes back to the fundamentals and ensuring junior high coaches are teaching them.
Athletic Director Craig Rogers said new OCCHS head football coach Kevin Goltra has expressed concerns and he feels Goltra will be concerned with getting the junior high football programs “all on the same page” when he arrives.
Published in The Messenger 12.18.12