To no one’s surprise who saw him play, the TSSAA also honored a local player this week as Bradley Central senior Austin Sanders was among the finalists for the Mr. Tennessee Football Award.
The first player in the University of Tennessee’s history to be offered a scholarship as a high school junior, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive and defensive tackle is a finalist for the Class AAA Lineman of the Year.
Also chosen as participant in the upcoming U.S. Marine All-American game, Sanders graded out at 91 percent on his blocking this year, plus had 47 pancake blocks.
“This is a great honor for Austin. He deserves it. He is being recognized for all the hard work he has put in,” commented Bear head coach Damon Floyd.
While the new enrollment classification numbers were released a couple of weeks ago, after having to deal with a storm of controversy concerning a football playoff mistake which led to Cleveland High being included in the postseason brackets only to have the invitation withdrawn a few hours later, the TSSAA delayed the announcement of the proposed new districts for more than a week.
Everyone locally knew that East Hamilton was moving up in classification and expected the Hurricanes to join District 5-AAA, which includes Bradley, Cleveland and Walker Valley.
However, the possibility of Rhea County moving out of the district had not been widely discussed.
The new list has the Golden Eagles flying west to join with District 6-AAA holdovers Cookeville, White County, Cumberland County, Warren County and newcomer Stone Memorial, which is moving up from Class AA. Rhea County would be the only team in the league that is in the Eastern Time Zone. All other 6-AAA teams are an hour behind, in the Central Time Zone.
“We hate to lose them, but the last time reclassification came around they (TSSAA) tried to move them over there, so it’s not a complete shock,” expressed coach Floyd. “We hope to be able to continue to play them, in non-district games.”
Rhea County would still compete against the local schools on the regional level as districts 5- and 6-AAA make up Region 3-AAA.
Under the proposed new alignment, Coffee County, would leave 6-AAA to join District 8-AAA along with Tullahoma, Shelbyville, Franklin County, Lincoln County, Lawrence County and Columbia Central.
What is coming as a complete shock in the realignment list is the fact Polk County will not be changing districts.
With a drop in enrollment moving Meigs County down to Class A, it was expected that District 5-AA’s remaining four members would be split up, allowing the TSSAA to relieve some crowded districts in the west side of the state.
Polk and archrival McMinn Central were thought to be heading to the Chattanooga AA district to compete with the likes of Hixson, Red Bank, Chattanooga Central, Howard, Brainerd and East Ridge. Sweetwater and Sequoyah were rumored to be heading north to the very tough 4-AA along with Alcoa, CAK, Loudon and Kingston.
Instead, Polk, McMinn Central, Sweetwater and Sequoyah will be left in a four-team district for the majority of sports, with Collegedale Academy joining them for golf, cross country, track and tennis.
While a four-team football district is unusual, it is not completely unheard of, as three others are proposed — District 13-AAA (Hardin County, Brighton, Munford and Dyer County), 7-A (Clay County, Jackson County, Monterey, Pickett County) and 11-A (Columbia Academy, Cornersville, Mount Pleasant, Richland).
In an odd proposal, Meigs County has been placed in District 3-A along with Greenback, Midway, Harriman, Rockwood and Knoxville Christian, while Tellico Plains, which is a current 3-A member, was place in 5-A to compete with Chattanooga schools — Boyd-Buchanan, Silverdale and Grace Baptist Academy, plus Copper Basin. Meigs County borders Hamilton County, while Tellico Plains is more than 60 miles from its nearest Chattanooga competition.
Schools will have an opportunity to voice their preferences to the TSSAA, but the final decisions will come Thursday at the Board of Control meeting to be held at the Double Tree Hotel in Murfreesboro.
Whatever decisions are made Thursday, it may only be for two years (instead of the normal four), while the state’s governing body is expected to review the high school football playoffs once again after this year’s controversy, which had Cleveland High not in the playoffs, in the playoffs and not in the playoffs in less than 12 hours.