Region D expansion sparking discussion, new era in football

George Thwaites • Aug 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

A new era in Region D football kicks off in 2007 with the first major realignment in almost two decades.

In addition to the Lonesome Pine, Cumberland and Black Diamond districts, a fourth league — the Clinch Mountain — emerges on the scene.

The Clinch Mountain is comprised entirely of Group A, Division 2 programs. These include Gate City, which was evidently happy to leave the LPD; Lebanon and John Battle; which weren’t entirely happy to be exiled from the Hogoheegee District; and Virginia High and Lee High, both of which needed a home after the dissolution of the Group AA Highlands.

“The LPD is happy to get rid of Gate City and the Hogoheegee is happy to get rid of us,” said Lebanon coach John Adams, whose squad is favored to win the new league. “We’re fired up. We’ve been in so many damned districts, it doesn’t matter to us.”

Without question, Lee High’s move has generated the most controversy. The VHSL granted the Generals a special exception to play down.

With an average daily enrollment of 797, Lee is currently the largest Group A program in the state. With av average enrollment of 700, however, Virginia High is hardly a speck on the screen.

Lee officials have long maintained the school obtains its core athletes from a much smaller pool of talent than reflected in its enrollment numbers. Since the school was founded in 1989, the school’s most successful athletic teams have tended to reflect that assessment. For the most part they would’ve made exceptional Group A squads.

Aside from two or three anomalous seasons, the football program has consistently struggled — no matter who they played.

“This is going to give us a chance to play some teams geographically closer, teams we can hopefully be more competitive against,” said Lee High coach Bobby Sanders, whose squad went 2-8 last season.

Some might then think it fair that the Generals have landed in a district comprised entirely of the largest schools in the region. With an ADE of 570, Lebanon is the smallest of that bunch.

But J.I. Burton coach Jimbo Adams sees it from another angle. This year he fields Region D’s top-ranked football team in either division despite an ADE of 223 students. But given the way the districts are aligned, he sees a daunting problem on the horizon for Region D’s smaller programs.

“How can you justifiably stick all the large schools in one district and then take two large schools and stick them in another district, then have the other districts with no large schools? How is that fair to the kids?” Adams asked.

“You know what? It’s not about the kids. It’s about revenue.”

Don’t get too comfortable with the present arrangements.

Even as the Clinch Mountain District was forming, observers in the know predicted that Tazewell (615), Graham (560) and Grundy (483) will probably leave the Group AA Southwest District for Region D in two years. Given Lee High’s numbers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Richlands (795) and Marion (793) loudly petition for the same concession Lee High obtained.

“I think in two years, this whole thing is going to get all shook up again,” Clintwood coach Rick Mullins said.

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