READ TIME: 8 Minutes | By: Chandler Morrison, Editor-In-Chief | Special Report
Although they’ll remain in Class 2A when it comes to football and Class Single-A in every other sport, Meigs County and Marion County will be moving up in classification in Basketball (boy’s and girl’s), Baseball, and Softball during the 2017-2021 enrollment period as announced by the TSSAA Tuesday afternoon.
The Warriors and Tigers have identical enrollment numbers with 517 students and ranking as the 7th and 8th smallest schools in Class AA. Both teams have ties to teams in higher classes, including Marion County with Sequatchie County, Grundy County, and Sequatchie County and Meigs County with McMinn Central, McMinn County, and Rhea County in close range. So the jump won’t be too big as both athletic programs better themselves by playing bigger schools.
The most interesting aspect about the move, though, is the now-even divide between Sequatchie Valley schools as Sequatchie County, Grundy County, Bledsoe County, and Marion County sit in AA while Van Buren County, South Pittsburg, Whitwell and Richard Hardy remain in the Single-A classification. That could leave Marion County with more emphasis on district rivalries than those with Whitwell and South Pittsburg after football season wains.
Drawing Up a District
When one takes a look into the future of a Valley-ladened District 7-AA, the possibilities are almost endless.
If you look at Grundy County, Sequatchie County, and Bledsoe County as the base for the up-and-coming district, Marion County and Meigs County are just two possibilities. With Notre Dame and Chattanooga Christian leaving for Division II, that leaves two holes in the current 7-AA field. If Signal Mountain stays and isn’t forced into 6-AA, that could make a quick resolution to the makeup of such a district.
That leaves us with with five to six schools, which is close to bare minimum. Even with that, Signal Mountain could go to 6-AA and Meigs County to more of a Knoxville area region like they already do with non-football sports. Hixson is within a reasonable distance of the Valley with easy access from Highway 111, I-24/US-27, and various mountain roads. Also in the same vicinity is Red Bank, which has some ancient ties to the Valley and Signal Mountain.
Meigs County sticks out like a sore thumb, geographically, in these scenarios, but they fit in with the Valley culture rather well with a small town atmosphere crazy about its sports, whether on the gridiron or not. And even on the map, Decatur’s farthest possible opponent, Grundy County is only an hour and a half away. Even Cumberland County would be closer.
Still Tiger fans might still be more acclimated to the Chattanooga district, 6-AA. The school can, however, appeal where they’re put, if they wish, and be put into a different district. The travel might be longer, but the benefits would be greater just like Van Buren County’s move–in basketball–from District 7-A and 9-A to 6-A.
And when the TSSAA decided upon moving the privates schools out and adding divisions to various sports, they also added in a clause that stated any team could move up individually in any sport. Hence, Alcoa could move up in just football or Notre Dame could move up in just wrestling and etc.
That brings the possibility that a school could decide to move up in classification in one sport. However unlikely, if a team like Whitwell were to move up in, say, softball or Van Buren County in, say, basketball, they would likely be thrown in such a district as the one described above. It’s unlikely, though, due to the sheer difference in level of play in some sports, but some teams have better success in divisions higher up due to monopolizing teams such as Alcoa in football who would have been in Class 2A after the last realignments.
The Plateau Effect: A Curveball on the Basketball Court
There are a lot of schools that fit the mold in the Chattanooga area, but for an even better fit, look no further than the source of the Valley itself: Cumberland County.
That’s right, the Jets have been moved down to the AA classification and could use a change of pace. Their connection and hour-distance vicinity of Sequatchie County and Bledsoe County and a bit further for Grundy County and Marion County makes them a viable candidate.
Their success also adds to the strengths of the Valley bringing in a strong Girls’ Basketball team that has made eight sectional runs in AAA since 2004 and a boy’s team that has Middle Tennessee roots with a Southeast Tennessee work ethic. It’s a perfect fit and could give the district a title contender year-in and year-out on both sides of the gender spectrum.
Either way, mixing the slight Middle Tennessee vibes of the Sequatchie Valley and the street ball style of play in Chattanooga has long been the staple of District 7-AA and its predecessors. So as far a school size, it could be go big or go home with Cumberland County High School’s population of 1000 students.
Softball: The Valley’s Gridiron of the Spring
Take away football and these two programs thrive in each of the sports they’ll be moving up in, especially softball. Two of the top three teams last season with Meigs County’s title and Marion County’s third place finish, they’ll likely still be huge threats in the next division up. Marion County, specifically, has been competitive–and at times dominant– against AA foes Grundy County, Sequatchie County, and Bledsoe County.
Both squads, though, consistently compete with top teams in not only the region but state in the Chattanooga area. With private giants Baylor and GPS and large-school powerhouses in Soddy Daisy and Ooltewah, there’s no shortage of competition, including teams from lower classifications.
Could one imagine, for just a moment, that Marion County joined up with the ranks of Sequatchie County and Grundy County who have been well above par in recent years? Chattanooga Christian, who had some success last season in the District 7-AA tournament against Sequatchie County as they sewed up 2nd place, would be completely out of the picture as small public schools could begin to wield a mega-district.
All of that comes without the mention of Meigs County who would turn the district into a super-region, unstoppable even against District 8-AA and 6-AA who have went to the State Tourney in recent years. And speaking of that, if you add a feisty Red Bank team to the mix, things could go quite nicely as the Lions are constantly in Region Finals and Sectionals with Chattanooga Central.
Meigs County, though, is not a set-in-stone team when it comes to joining 7-AA. Again, they’re roots are in the no-man’s land between Chattanooga and Knoxville where the battle line seem to get redrawn every 3-4 four years. They might actually be put in the AA district with McMinn Central that plays to the northeast and toward Knoxville.
Welcome to the Valley: Basketball’s Great Talent Ravine
The distance between the street-style of District 6-AA and the ‘White Boy’ stature of District 8-AA spans but a Valley. District 7-AA has long been inferior to both on either side of the gender spectrum.
Marion County and Meigs County could prove to be an asset.
Whether or not Meigs County ends up in 7-AA, the Warriors add competition that has consistently great play on the court, fueled by atmospheres so well known in Grundy County and Sequatchie County. Both sides of the ball have been successful, including against AA teams, so the fit is really nice as Marion County molds itself into a medium-sized school.
The Warriors made sectional run on the men’s side last season, even with Van Buren County in the mix, so it’s not out of the question to see them with success in the next division up.
Meigs County, if they’re able to merge with the Valley-heavy district would add another level as they’ve also made deep runs in the Single-A postseason…on both sides of the gender spectrum. And with an upstart Warriors program and an established Meigs County athletic program there could be a mega-district in the mix.
Along with Bledsoe County, who has had success in past years on both sides of the ball, Sequatchie County and Grundy County could get the 8-AA-caliber tests they’ve been waiting on. And with that Marion County and Meigs County could have a straighter shot at the Glass House in Murfreesboro.
It’s likely, though, that only Marion County would be in the district without Meigs County due to the geographic location of the Tigers in Decatur. Still, the idea is not too far off, and it could get some wind if Meigs County feels that it fits in with the Valley culture better than the one than being the border between Chattanooga and Knoxville.