Jackson and Mary Persons would be more than Backyard Brawl rivals under the Georgia High School Association’s proposed biennial region realignment for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. They would become region rivals again, for the first time in 11 years.
The grouping would be called Region 2-AAA, though a rose by any other name would still contain five of the six schools that constitute Jackson’s opponents in the current Region 4-AAA. Peach County, Central-Macon, Westside-Macon, Rutland and Pike County would move along with Jackson into 2-AAA, and they would be joined by Crisp County, Americus-Sumter, Mary Persons and Upson-Lee. Among current 4-AAA foes, only Kendrick would no longer be a region rival.
None of this is official, nor will it become so before the GHSA’s Reclassification Committee meets in January. But the possible alignments for all member schools have been floated on the GHSA website. As soon as it was, Westside and Rutland decided to ask the GHSA if they could move up to larger Class AAAA. If the GHSA allows the two to move up, it would change things significantly.
Assuming that the current proposal stands, the new Region 2-AAA would have 10 teams. While that potentially simplifies football scheduling — a school would need to arrange only one non-region game, if it could count on playing everybody else in the region — it also would make qualifying for the playoffs more difficult.
Consider this: Of the 10 proposed members of future 2-AAA, eight made the playoffs this season. There would only be room for half that many in the next postseason. The Red Devils have lost seven straight to Mary Persons in football, but it hasn’t hurt their playoff chances because they were all non-region games. If the proposal becomes official, an eighth consecutive Red Devil defeat could sting a lot more than the first seven.
The proposed region’s new geography could muddy the picture for Jackson in other sports, too. That’s because Americus-Sumter and Crisp County are more than 100 miles from Jackson. GHSA By-Law 2.66 states that “teams playing any regular season contest when there are classes the next day shall be limited to a travel distance of no more than 100 miles one way as determined using the maps program at http://www.Yahoo.com.”
While that wouldn’t affect football, where Friday is by far the most common night to play, sports like baseball and basketball are commonly played on Tuesdays. The Red Devils would only be able to play Americus-Sumter or Crisp County on weekends.
“We haven’t dealt with that in a while,” Jackson athletics director Calvin Scandrett said. “That would complicate things too, because you’re 100 miles from a place and can’t play on a Tuesday night, then you’ve got to arrange the schedule and move games to allow for that 100-mile rule.”
One possible solution is that the region could be subdivided for everything except football, meaning that Jackson would play only half the region — and wouldn’t have worry about playing Americus-Sumter or Crisp County at all in anything except football. But, geographically speaking, there would seem to be no ideal way to divide the schools evenly into five-team subregions.
Jackson, Pike County, Mary Persons and Upson-Lee fit comfortably together, but which would be the fifth team to join them? The most palatable split would force Peach County to bypass closer Macon schools (Central, Westside and Rutland) to join a subregion with Jackson, allowing the three Macon schools to play in the same subregion with Americus-Sumter and Crisp County. Otherwise, the Macon schools would be forced to split up, perhaps harming them at the gate. Of course, if Westside and Rutland move up, then subdividing into four-team subregions solves that problem and Peach County could remain with Central, Americus-Sumter and Crisp County.
In any case, it’s all but certain that Jackson and Mary Persons will be grouped together, which is important. The football rivalry has a big impact on Jackson’s financial bottom line. Having that game early in the season makes a difference, though when they were region rivals as recently as 2009, they didn’t meet until the fifth game. Timing, however, is everything, according to Scandrett.
“My concern with football is that both teams do well gate revenue-wise by playing early in the year,” he said. “At that point, if you’re playing the first or second game, winning and losing doesn’t have much bearing [on attendance]. But as the season goes on, [won-lost] records kind of dictate turnout. Both teams depend on that gate to finance athletics for the year.”