Thomasville Times Enterprise

January 15, 2014

Familiar territory

Jamie Wachter
CNHI

THOMASVILLE — Even though spring football is several months away, Thomas County Central is already 1-0 in 2014.

At least that is the way it feels after the Yellow Jackets' appeal to the Georgia High School Association's Executive Committee was approved Tuesday, dropping Central to Class AAAA in football along with its other sports. Originally, the GHSA reclassification committee kept Central in Class AAAAA for football.

“We're excited because we won't have to make all those long road trips,” Central coach Bill Shaver said. “Obviously, that's a huge deal as far as logistics and all that's involved. And not only were there going to be some long Friday trips, but some of them would have been on Saturday.

“As far as what I think high school sports should be, where your fans get a chance to go to the game, and you don't have to dealwith as much travel, that makes it a whole lot better.”

With the GHSA decision, the Jackets will join Region 1-AAAA where it will be aligned with traditional rival Cairo along with a host of familiar faces in former region foes Albany, Americus-Sumter, Crisp County, Dougherty, Monroe, Westover and Worth County. While it didn't appeal the GHSA's decision, Bainbridge was also allowed to drop down in football Tuesday due to isolation, rounding out the 10-team region. Cook, which had been moved up due to isolation, also won its appeal Tuesday and will now play football in Class AAA while the rest of its sports remain in 1-AAAA for travel purposes.

Cairo coach Tom Fallaw, whose Syrupmakers have played Central and Bainbridge for years in non-region games, isn't concerned with the newest additions to the region. Fallaw's philosophy has always been to just play who is on the schedule.

“They can do whatever they want to do. We play our region schedule,” Fallaw said. “I never have worried about any of that.

“We're a AAAA school and we'll play whomever they tell us to play.”

But Shaver, who joined Central's staff during its 1990s run to five state titles in six years, remembers the memorable games the Jackets played against former rivals like Crisp County and Worth County, and is looking forward to resuming those series.

“When I first got to Central, those were all our rivals,” he said. “Crisp County, Worth County, we had some great games with them in the playoffs sometimes and sometimes in the regular season. We've had some great games with Dougherty.

“It's one where we'll get back to playing some of our old traditional rivals and some that our fans are more familiar with those names than certainly some of the names we were fixing to play against.”

Central has winning records against all nine of its new region opponents, although outside of Cairo — which the Jackets have played every year since 1986 — and Bainbridge — an annual opponent since 2002 — it has only played Americus-Sumter and Monroe in recent years. The Panthers were region foes with Central from 2004-2009 following the consolidation of those schools, and Central and Monroe played a two-game series in 2006 and 2007. Otherwise, Central hasn't faced any of its new region mates since 2003 (Crisp County, Dougherty and Worth) or longer — 1999 for Westover and 1995 for Albany.

Despite those past successes, Central's cumulative record against its region foes is 148-78-5, Shaver is expecting a tough road for the Jackets the next two seasons. In part, that is due to Central losing 10 of its 11 offensive starters. But also he has seen some of the 1-AAAA members start looking like their old selves.

“The level of football is probably as good or better than the league we were going in, truthfully,” Shaver said. “There's some good football-playing schools. Worth made the turn last year. Crisp made the turn last year and is headed back. Westover and Monroe have been really good the past several years.”



ONE GAME TO FILL

With nine region games, that leaves the Jackets just one open date on their 2014 and 2015 schedules. However, finding that one non-region opponent won't be as easy as it seems. With the non-balanced region schedule, Shaver said the most important thing in scheduling that final opponent will be lining up a home game in the appropriate year.

“The tough thing about it is you will have an odd number of teams, so one year you only have four region home games,” he said. “It depends on how you draw your region games, so if you only get four home games, then whoever you play that first game has to be a home game. That may not work out with somebody you've talked to because they may not need that to be an away game. It's that kind of deal.

“I've been in discussions with Valdosta to play them, but we'll have to wait and see how the chips fall and if we can work it out. We'll just have to see how that goes.”

If Central and Valdosta can work out that detail, it will mark the first time since 2004 that the Yellow Jackets and cross-town rival Thomasville did not play. Outside of that lightning-canceled game, the last time Central and THS didn't face off was from 1996-99. The series between the two schools is tied at 24.