PrepXtra: Union County discusses football changes

Sept. 13, 2016: Union County High School administrators, students and parents on Tuesday discussed options for the school's struggling football team.

UPDATE: About 50 people came out to Union County High School Tuesday night to discuss options for the future of the struggling Patriot football program - including players, who brought their on-the-field passion to the discussion.

The team is on a 20-game losing streak that dates back to September 2014. Administrators say they've also struggled to have enough players to field a team. 

"You're just brushing us off like we're nothing,” exclaimed one student at Tuesday's meeting.

One question parents asked was why the team can't schedule easier opponents.

"Are we allowed to have the 5 district games, plus 5 of our choice non-district?" asked one parent.

Administrators have said the school has three options: they can keep playing as they are, they can go to a JV only team or they can ask the TSSAA to grant them an exemption so that the football team can pull out of playoff contention and schedule their own games against teams that are more their match. 

Choosing to forgo a conference and become independent could bring the program more challenges. Right now, administrators are only responsible for finding five teams to play every season. If the school becomes independent, they'll have to schedule all 10 games. 

One issue that's kept the program from getting on track is coaching turnover. Administrators say they want to find someone who's committed to the players.

For the community, the meeting was about taking a stand and showing how much the high school players and the program mean to everyone in Union County.

"Let’s be honest. We don't have a chance to win a championship this year. We don't," said one teacher in attendance. "But if you start winning, every win becomes a championship for you. It’s a morale booster and you're going, 'Hey look what we did and we can do it again next week.'"

PREVIOUS STORY: Union County High School administrators will discuss withdrawing its struggling football program from the TSSAA's playoff series when they meet with members of the community at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the school's auditorium.

Union County (0-4) has been outscored 191-20 this season, part of a 20-game losing streak that dates to Sept. 12, 2014, according to CoachT.com. The Patriots were outscored 626-13 in 2015.

"We're having a meeting tonight to get the parents and community involved about the future," school athletic director Shane Brown told the News Sentinel on Tuesday. "Do we want to go independent? Do we want to go JV only? We're definitely not dropping football.

"We want to get through this year with hopefully enough bodies. Ideally, we'd like to go independent to make it competitive and hopefully come back in the future."

Withdrawing from the state organization's playoff series would allow Union County to set its own football schedule, but prevent it from advancing to the postseason. The move can't happen without a special request from the TSSAA's Board of Control.

Per TSSAA rules, schools withdrawing from the playoff series in football also must do so in basketball.

"We don't want to do that; we're competitive in basketball," said Brown, who doubles as the school's boys basketball coach. "We pitched this last year and didn't do it because of that reason. But we talked to them recently, and they said if our attorney drafts a letter stating why we need to do this in only football, then they'll look at it.

"They said they've granted exceptions for situations like this in the past."

Dropping from the playoff series after this season would prevent Union County from being eligible for the football postseason until at least 2019. A new classification cycle that expires in 2018 is set to begin next season.

"It would have to be at least a two-year commitment by (Union County) just because of football contracts," TSSAA spokesman Matthew Gillespie said Tuesday. "If the board were to grant the exception, it'd be for the next two years at least."

A bevy of injuries forced Union County to evaluate on a week-to-week basis playing every game last season. Five players were hospitalized with concussions in a loss to Carter that year. Attrition hasn't helped matters, both on the coaching staff and on the roster.

The Patriots are on their third head coach since spring practice. Chris Robbins was named the interim in August in place of Robert Conway, who barely coached two months. Conway in May replaced Tommy Rewis, whose resignation after one season came during spring practice.

Karen Baker has two sons on the team. She said she was frustrated by the lack of coaching consistency.

She chalks the frequent injuries up to that.

"It has nothing to do that they don't know how to play or being up to the right standards," she said. "It's that they're not coached the right way."

She was also concerned by some of the proposed changes to the program.

"My kids live, eat and breathe football," she said. "To do that to my children is telling them they're not good enough."

The Patriots were reclassified in 2015 into Region 2-4A, which has produced the past four Class 4A state champions.

"It's not good for anybody," Brown said. "It's not good for us. It's not good for Catholic or Fulton.

"We want to do what's right for our kids."

(© 2016 WBIR)


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