Cathedral, ACCS to meet in junior high football this fall

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In the world of junior high football, Cathedral coach Mark McCann had to be creative when it came to scheduling. He had to take some risks &8212; not to mention lengthy bus rides &8212; to find some level playing field for his team.

And it hasn&8217;t been easy.

The junior Green Wave was without a district and had to pick up games when it could &8212; even if it meant suiting up about 25 players and playing Vidalia, which suited up 50 players.

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The team will get a break this fall.

When the MPSA and the MHSAA agreed to allow inter-association contests only for junior high events, with it came opportunity. Cathedral will host Adams Christian in a contest Sept. 19 at Bobby Marks Stadium for the first contest of its kind in the Miss-Lou.

The move, both sides agree, fills two needs both schools have: finding opponents closer to home to ease on the travel budget, and finding opponents on a more level playing field.

And, honestly, it&8217;s almost a no-brainer that it&8217;s taken this long to reach fruition.

&8220;All these boys have played against each other in AYA,&8221; McCann said. &8220;It&8217;s like when we played Trinity in (summer) baseball. It&8217;s a good thing, and we&8217;re going to see how it works. It&8217;s going to be a fun contest.

&8220;We&8217;ve always played bigger schools. Most of the teams we&8217;ve played are 2A and 3A schools. This is a school our size.&8221;

The two schools agreed to play on that date (a Tuesday) after Adams Christian called Cathedral for the game to curb some of its travel expenses. The AC-Cathedral contest, however, may be the most talked-about junior high football game in quite some time in the Miss-Lou.

And there&8217;s more reasons why people will be talking.

Will this be something that happens on the varsity level in the future? Will MPSA schools play MHSAA opponents on a regular basis, and will there ever be a day where there will be just one association for high school sports in Mississippi?

Efforts five years ago to allow public-private contests failed, but there may be more momentum now.

&8220;We&8217;ve got a committee,&8221; said Cathedral athletic director Roy Garcia, who serves on the MHSAA&8217;s executive committee, &8220;from the MPSA and the MHSAA to see if we can find some common ground to see if they can follow the same rules we have. Other states&8217; private schools come over and join the (public school league).

&8220;What they&8217;re finding out is that a lot of kids in private schools don&8217;t have the competition, and they&8217;re com

ing over to the pub

lic schools to big-

ger schools where there&8217;s better opportunity for advancement. We&8217;ll see what happens.&8221;

A second attempt

The two associations made some headway five years ago when Jackson Prep played George County in a football contest. It was hailed as a move to break down barriers between the two associations and a move that would open the door for future athletic interaction.

There was only one catch.

MHSAA officials ruled only private schools accredited by either the Mississippi Department of Education or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools could play its members on its regular basis.

Trinity Episcopal was one of a select few. The Legislature, meanwhile, granted accreditation to the private schools last summer to facilitate the issue.

&8220;There weren&8217;t that many of us,&8221; Adams Christian headmaster John R. Gray said. &8220;Those that weren&8217;t got a little upset because they couldn&8217;t do it. They had a right to not do do it, but they chose not to. But now there&8217;s no stipulation on this. We&8217;ve got Vidalia, Cathedral and all those right there without hardly getting out of the city limits. I don&8217;t see why they shouldn&8217;t (play) if they&8217;re that close.&8221;Jackson Prep went as far as applying for dual membership, but MHSAA officials turned down the measure because the Patriots would still play MPSA opponents. Now with the measure beginning with the junior high schools, it can be viewed as a trial run to see how it goes.

&8220;I guess everybody has their opinions on public schools playing private schools,&8221; Trinity head football coach and AD David King said. &8220;I think it&8217;s a great first step. Most schools would like to have the opportunity to want to play close by because of travel and return on gate. A gate would be great for a Cathedral-Trinity basketball game.&8221;

By beginning in the junior high, it allows schools to keep their travel budget focused on varsity and the scope of the program focused on development. When ACCS and Cathedral play this fall, both schools will reap the rewards of a big gate, an evenly matched opponent and a chance to get better as a team.

&8220;They may have a few more than us, but it&8217;s about the same,&8221; said Ron Rushing, who will assist head coach Rick Fife with AC&8217;s junior high team. &8220;Once they realized we could play, Coach (Rusty) McPhate had called them. It was a group effort by them and by us, and I think everybody realized how good it could be.&8221;

Rising travel costs

When the MPSA moved WCCA into a new district with schools closer in proximity, school officials breathed a sigh of relief. The cost of diesel, athletic director Sam Byrd IV said, has risen so much in the last two years that it&8217;s becoming a major issue.

Schools all over the state are feeling the pinch. If there&8217;s an impetus for the move for inter-association contests, that may be it.

At WCCA, a contest at Tallulah Academy would cost $280 for fuel alone with diesel going for $3 a gallon and the bus getting 6 miles to the gallon.

&8220;That gets on up there,&8221; Byrd said. &8220;We&8217;re really excited about the district we&8217;re in, and that&8217;s going to help us out tremendously. (Our budget) will probably be half of what it was.

&8220;With our buses, they&8217;ve got wear and tear on them. The motor blew up on one of them. When you&8217;re dealing with academy people, we&8217;re always robbing Peter to pay Paul and having to find out who wants to donate what.&8221;

A game against a nearby public school would be welcomed at WCCA, but Cathedral may be the most evenly matched team within short driving distance. Byrd said they&8217;ll wait until rules allow varsity competition, and they must also wait to see if officials in Louisiana pass similar legislation.

It would help tremendously with travel.

&8220;At our last meeting, we had superintendents calling in because of the gas prices to see if some of schools could cut some of the games out,&8221; Garcia said. &8220;Some schools up north, they have so much money to start with, and when they run out of money, they stop.&8221;

The move benefits Adams Christian, who will be in a district where Vicksburg will be the closest trip with other stops in Bastrop, Rayville and Winnsboro in Louisiana.

Trinity Episcopal, Huntington and WCCA will be in the Class A district where the longest trip will be Tallulah, La.

&8220;We&8217;re not only excited because we get to play local, but it helps so much with travel,&8221; Gray said. &8220;If this will work, I&8217;d like for us to get our own junior high schedule and not get a district &8212; maybe a split district and get everyone around you to cut expenses. That would be our goal.&8221;

That&8217;s why so many smaller schools are pushing for it. And it avoids the issue WCCA had to deal with last year with long road trips during the middle of the week.

An ideal situation, King said, would be allowing Trinity, ACCS and WCCA to be able to play MHSAA schools such as Cathedral, Loyd Star, West Lincoln and Bogue Chitto. It&8217;s short drives, big gates and competitive games.

&8220;As long as you can stay away from a two-hour bus ride with your kids going to school the next morning,&8221; King said. &8220;We want to play single-A and double-A public schools for travel purposes and it would be fun.&8221;