MURFREESBORO – Tullahoma football coach John Olive works at a school that offers an open zone for students.
In the past that’s brought standout athletes as well as outstanding students.
However, he believes if the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association approves a plan to move all open-zone schools — which includes all private schools — to their own division, it would hurt his program’s future success.
“If they decide to go that route, that would make life pretty rough on a school like Tullahoma,” Olive said. “We’re an open-enrollment school, meaning students outside our city limits can come here if they pay a tuition to go to school here.
“We’ve got a majority of our kids that come within our city limits. But we have some that may live on Tims Ford Lake and want to come in to Tullahoma to go to school. How many are athletes? Some are really good athletes. But we also get some that are very artistic and very good in our music programs and our art program.”
The TSSAA’s Legislative Council meets at 1 p.m. Thursday at the DoubleTree Hotel in Murfreesboro to vote on a potential public-private split. The council has spent the past month looking at five proposals presented by the TSSAA staff. One option is to put all open-zoned schools together in their own division.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress used a simple analogy when determining if a school is open zoned.
“We are seeing more and more county systems going to open enrollment,” Childress said. “What we say is when you walk out of your house and get on the bus, where does it take you? Does it take you to the school you are attending?”
Central Magnet is considered an open-zone school by TSSAA standards. If students qualify academically and reside in Rutherford County, they can attend the Murfreesboro magnet school. However, Principal John Ash does not consider his school open-zoned.
“We are not open any more than Oakland is open zone,” Ash said. “Any child in Rutherford County can go to Oakland.
“We can’t take anyone we want. We have such stringent academic requirements.”
Oakland offers an international baccalaureate program that all students in Rutherford County can apply to attend.
There are other situations statewide where students can receive permission to attend a school because of a course offered. But Childress said that doesn’t make those schools offering one program open-zoned.
However, Olive, as well as Alcoa football coach Gary Rankin, said those schools should be considered an open-zoned school.
“That is an open zone,” said Rankin, who won four state titles at Riverdale. Alcoa is an open-zoned school. “To do it right you would have to make sure nobody takes anybody from out of their zone and county. “But that wouldn’t be fair to kids.”
Among public schools considered open-zoned schools: Knoxville Austin-East, Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett, Dyersburg, Gibson County, Greeneville, Hume-Fogg Magnet, Martin Luther King Magnet, Maryville, McKenzie, Science Hill, Tennessee High and all private schools.
Alcoa and Maryville have had a high level of success on the football field over the years. Maryville has won 15 football state titles. Alcoa has won 13.
Childress pointed to a change in Nashville’s public schools that could lead them into falling into open zones.
Metro Athletic Director Roosevelt Sanders said Metro students can apply for schools out of their zone if there is an academy at another school the student is interested in attending. Students aren’t promised a spot.
“There are probably hundreds of open-zoned schools,” Rankin said. “I don’t know the exact definition. But I know coming out of eighth grade a student can go wherever they want.
“I know Maryville and Alcoa get attention when it comes to open-zoned schools. For 50 years, Alcoa has been open-zoned.”
Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kreager.
Contributing: Sam Brown