READ TIME: 6 Minutes | By: Chandler Morrison, Editor-In-Chief | Special Report
With changes made in TSSAA meetings this summer and recent enrollment numbers, the path to a State Tournament–and eventually State Title–looks brighter than ever for Sequatchie County and company.
The more positive future for the region’s Soccer play can be attributed to the continued severance of public and privates schools which caused Chattanooga Christian and Notre Dame (usually the standard for soccer in Chattanooga) to bolt for Division II. They were in a district with Marion County, Bledsoe County, and Sequatchie County this past season and had been for the duration of all three schools’ soccer tenures.
When the decision was made to tighten up on private institutions’ restrictions, the TSSAA also voted to add another classification to Division I soccer, thus making three even classes with 86 schools each. And though,that may seem like a small change, one school that has been a staple in the 7-A/AA history is no longer among the ranks of two area schools.
Signal Mountain often played soccer with the ora of a private school, however, when the enrollment numbers came in for the 2017-2021 period, the Eagles were a few students short of Class AA. In basketball, baseball, volleyball, and softball, they still remain in the Double-A class, and in football they are also in an equivalent classification with 3A.
The Eagles could possibly play up to AA with the new TSSAA clause allowing for movement to high classifications in individual sports, but when you have stared down the barrel of Chattanooga Christian and Notre Dame for several years with little chance of advancing past districts, it’s likely they’ll stay down and dominate.
The real answer to why Valley soccer teams could flourish in the next few years, though, lies in the cold, hard statistics.
THE NUMBERS DON’T LIE: Private Schools’ Death Grip on D-I Soccer
2015, which seems to be an all-inclusive snapshot of previous years on the pitch, was very telling of just how dominant soccer teams were in the postseason on both sides of the gender spectrum.
So for a baseline, let’s put this statistic out there: Before the new classifications, private schools accounted for roughly 19-20% of all schools in Single-A and Double-A classes. (We took what would be 4A, 5A, and 6A out of the picture due to the lack of private schools.)
With that statistic out there, it should be noted that that over all sports in the last ten years, roughly 47% of championships were won by private schools. That means a fifth of the school population was winning almost half of the championships.
And when you look at soccer, the numbers are even more staggering as no public school has won a State Championship on either the boy’s or girl’s side since 2002, a mere 14 years ago.
And though championships can be won by 1-2 teams over a long span, the real tale of the tape comes from the participants in the past year’s Sectional and State Tournaments.
On the boy’s side of the ball–where the public-private gap is not so prevalent–six out of 16 teams were non-public schools in the region finals/sectionals with four of eight in the State Tournament, accounting for 38% and 50% of participants, respectively. The story is a little more dominant on the girls’ side with eight out of 16 in the region finals/sectionals and five out of eight in State Tournament. That’s 50% of participants in the region and 63% amongst the final eight teams.
So, the statistics show that as the fields narrow, private schools–particularly out of the eastern part of the State–tend to come out on top. That leaves a gaping hole in a possible state tournament field, starting in 2017.
And with Signal Mountain, Chattanooga Christian, and Notre Dame no longer in the AA mix along with others that have dominated in the past, a team that has been held back by Grade-A opponents would thrive. It’s similar to what would happen if you took the top three teams out of the SEC, leaving Tennessee. The Volunteers would likely have more conference titles in the next five years than they’ve had in the past 15 combined.
The same goes for Sequatchie County who, by default, could become a state powerhouse virtually overnight. That also leaves the door open for Bledsoe County and Marion County who are improving more as the days go by.
The Birth of a Rivalry on the Pitch
Signal Mountain wasn’t the only team to fall below the AA line.
In fact, Bledsoe County and Marion County both sit in the Single-A division as they get set to start a rivalry that could last a pretty good while. Already Valley foes on the gridiron and in several other sports, this game could blossom into a showdown of top dogs rather than bottom-feeders as they currently sit.
With Signal Mountain in Single-A, the Eagles will probably start out on top in the district and ride postseason waves year-in and year-out. And neither Warrior team has been able to compete closely with Signal thus far in their short tenures.
So, in turn, a battle for second place could turn into key matchup and a rivalry to boot as only the top two advance in each district. Marion County or Bledsoe County would likely be that second team, depending on who wins the tournament matchup between the two. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit as the postseason will be more wide open without private schools.
Marion County and Bledsoe County have already developed faster than most teams as they tried to adapt to Sequatchie County’s Valley dominance. Now that the Indians are off in another division altogether, both Warrior squads will have the ability to compete for district, region, and possibly even State Titles.
Until next season, though, soccer in the Valley will still ride back seat to Chattanooga’s private powerhouses.