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The “Backyard Brawl” between the Jackson Red Devils and their arch-rivals, the Mary Persons Bulldogs, is always one of the highlights of the season for both schools and communities. Hopefully it will continue as Jackson has been moved into a new region and will try to schedule Mary Persons as a non-region game earlier in the season.

For at least the next two school years — 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 — Jackson High School athletic teams will be facing all new opponents as the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) has moved Jackson out of region 2-AAA and into region 5-AAA. Jackson’s opponents beginning next fall will be Carver and Douglass high schools in Atlanta, Cedar Grove High School in DeKalb County, Salem High School in Rockdale County, and Sandy Creek High School in Fayette County.

The GHSA’s new region realignments sat well with some coaches and not so well with others, said Jackson Athletic Director Tom Gochenour.

“It’s been a bag of mixed feelings,” he said “ Some of the sports are fine and okay with it, others struggle with it. Part of it is having to do with the transportation issue. We didn’t like traveling to Crisp and Sumter counties, but now we get thrown up into Atlanta. That is tough traveling in late afternoon. Shorter distances but tougher traffic. So you have that issue.”

Another issue, especially for football, is finding more games. With only six teams in the region, the Red Devils will need to find five more opponents to round out a 10-game regular season. While that will give coach Dary Myricks a chance to schedule games with traditional rivals like Mary Persons and Pike County, finding a time early in the season for them could be the problem, especially since 2-AAA has been expanded to nine teams, meaning eight of their regular season games are region matches.

“That is a nine-team region that those guys got put into, and they’re not going to sub-divide, so you’re talking about them looking for one or two football games, and hopefully we can fit into some of those,” said Gochenour. “That was the way we were looking at it.

“Everybody is looking for those early games. The tough part is going out and finding games in September and the beginning of October. Those are the games that are hard, because everybody has already started their region games. So it will be tough. I know coach Myricks has already started that process.

“We try to also base our decision on what is best, not only for sports, but for the school and community overall,” Gochenour added. “This community doesn’t want to lose that Mary Persons game. Of course, I don’t think they will. If we lose the Mary Persons game, that’s bad for everybody, from community all the way through to program. I think coach Myricks has got a lock on that one, and I think they feel the same way. That’s a huge gate for them, too. They (Mary Persons) don’t want to lose that game.”

For football, it is not only finding five more games to play, it is also facing up against some tough opponents. Cedar Grove was 1st in 5-AAA, beat White County 79-0 last week in the first round of the state playoffs, and is ranked 3rd in the state. Carver was 2nd in 5-AAA, beat North Hall, 56-17 last week in the first round of the state playoffs, and is ranked 5th in the state.

For other sports, Gochenour said Jackson may have an edge, but that is not necessarily a good thing.

“Softball wise, I don’t feel the competition will be as good,” he said. “That’s a blessing and a curse. Yes, you might win a region championship, but how does that help you get ready for Columbus (state playoffs)?”

Gochenour said Jackson did file an appeal with the GHSA, but to no avail.

“Our wishful thinking was to get back into region 2-AAA, which included our current region (minus Crisp County and Central Macon), plus five Columbus-area teams. So we were trying to get into there and make that region big enough with 10 teams to sub-divide, and we basically keep the region that we have now, with a couple of crossover games with Columbus teams, instead of having to travel three or four times per season down to Columbus. That was our hopeful thinking.

“Mr. Rustin (JHS Principal Will Rustin) went to the GHSA in Thomaston Thursday and presented our case, and unfortunately, it was a very quick ‘No.’ What I found out is sometimes you get told no on two separate things. No. 1, how does that look for the whole picture of the region? No. 2, does that region really want you? I did some calling around, and if a majority of the teams in a region don’t want you, then the committee won’t put you in there.”

Here’s a snapshot of the schools Jackson will be facing for the next two years in 5-AAA:

♦ George Washington Carver High School, 55 McDonough Blvd. SE, Atlanta. Mascot — Panthers. Atlanta Public Schools.

♦ Cedar Grove High School, 2360 River Road, Ellenwood, Mascot: Saints, DeKalb County School System.

♦ Frederick Douglass High School, 225 Hamilton E. Holmes Dr. NW, Atlanta. Mascot — Astros. Atlanta Public Schools.

♦ Salem High School, 3551 Underwood Road SE, Conyers. Mascot: Seminoles. Rockdale County School System.

♦ Sandy Creek High School, 360 Jenkins Road, Tyrone. Mascot: Patriots. Fayette County School System.

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Senior Reporter

I have worked for community newspapers in Butts, Henry, Newton, Rockdale, and Upson counties for 30 years. I was Editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus from 1993-1999, and returned to the Progress-Argus as Senior Reporter in 2019.

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