This summer has had plenty of instances in which local high school football teams scrambled to fill their 10-game schedules.
Most of the time, if a team has an open game as late as March, that’s the extreme.
But teams like Haywood, Peabody, Adamsville and Middleton dealt with circumstances beyond their control.
Houston was set to be Haywood’s Week 1 opponent before it told the Tomcats’ administration they decided not to play.
Middleton had two teams in its new region – Region 8-1A, in which every other team is in Shelby County – announce late they’re not fielding football teams this year. Peabody was affected because one of those teams – Woodstock – was its Week 2 opponent.
Adamsville just had a hard time making a schedule.
“We had a hard time finding teams to play because everybody else had their schedules filled,” said Adamsville head coach Brandon Gray.
The Cardinals are now playing teams in three states as they will play Baldwyn, Miss., and Lauderdale County, Ala.
Football coaches typically schedule two-year contracts to play each other. Most of the time they schedule home-and-home series with a few exceptions. These agreements are typically made just after the previous season ends.
The TSSAA’s decision to go from districts – which were typically between five and seven teams – to larger regions – which range from six to nine teams – meant there were fewer games to schedule for most teams. One beneficiary from this was Hardin County, who went from four-team District 13-AAA to nine-team Region 7-4A.
“There were times it was hard for us to schedule seven games because we’re a big school that’s almost on an island surrounded by a lot of smaller schools, and some small schools don’t want to play larger schools,” said Hardin County head coach Matt Smith. “So we had some long trips like Lawrence County and North Side … we like North Side because that’s a good opponent here in West Tennessee but still 60 or 70 miles away.
“I’m glad a lot of the teams in the nearby towns like Adamsville, McNairy and Bolivar were open to playing us.”
One casualty in Jackson in this process this year is the game between North Side and South Side. North Side is in the nine-team Region 7-4A, which means the Indians only had two non-region games. There are three other teams in Jackson they typically play – Jackson Central-Merry, Liberty and South Side. South Side’s schedule couldn’t line up with North Side’s, so the Hawks were left out.
“I hate that, too, because I know that’s a game our kids like playing a lot,” said North Side head coach Tab Vowell.
The answer to that is the Indians and Hawks will meet in the SportsPlus Jamboree.
“I’m glad we still get to play them even if it doesn’t count,” said South Side head coach Brian Moore, whose Hawks host the Jackson jamboree. “It will be a good way to end the jamboree.”
If most teams had their schedules filled out by March, Peabody and Middleton were forced to scramble to find a replacement opponent since they didn’t find out Woodstock wasn’t playing football until May. Middleton filled the game with Adamsville. Peabody filled it with another team from Region 8-1A, W.E.B. Dubois … until that school announced it isn’t playing football this year either.
That opening for both Peabody and Middleton caused the Tigers and Golden Tide to play each other.
Houston’s desire to not play Haywood caused the Tomcats to believe for a few weeks they would simply play nine games this year, but Haywood head coach Steve Hookfin heard Oakland, a Class 6A team in Murfreesboro, had lost a game when Pulaski Academy, Ark., pulled out of a Week 4 game they had planned.
Oakland had Weeks 4 and 8 open, while Haywood had Weeks 1 and 8 free. Hookfin called Kevin Creasy, who’s in his first year at Oakland, and the game was set up within a few days.
“I like this game because it will be a playoff-type game with a long trip at a bigger school,” Hookfin said. “Playing that late in the season will be a good indicator of where we are as a team late in the year, and hopefully at that point we’ll need a good test going into the playoffs.”
One team that didn’t have scheduling problems was Milan. The Bulldogs are in the eight-team Region 7-3A, which meant they had seven games already scheduled. There are four games that are almost mandated by the Milan fan base the football team must play: South Gibson, Peabody, Humboldt and Huntingdon. South Gibson being in the region meant filling in the other three games was simple if they could get the weeks to line up.
“I’m glad we were able to get them all lined up, and I know fans of all those schools are, too,” said Milan head coach Jeff Morris. “All of those games are good for us and our fans because they mean so much to the people who pay the money to come watch them.”
Getting the weeks to line up is a reason behind a lot of the problems for some teams. University School of Jackson head coach Mickey Marley had agreements with various coaches in Division I to play in specific weeks. Because USJ and Division II didn’t have the realignment like Division I had, they began setting up their schedules in earnest a couple weeks earlier before the new regions were announced.
When they were announced, teams USJ had played recently the Bruins had planned on playing weren’t available on the weeks they’d agreed upon.
“We’ve had good games with South Side, Chester County and South Gibson the last few years, but those scheduling quirks or whatever you call them kept us from being able to play,” Marley said before adding this season will mark a first for USJ football. “Every team we will play this year is from a private school.
“That’s never happened in my entire coaching career.”
With a little more than three weeks remaining before the season begins, coaches are glad to have scheduling behind them and preparing for the season is underway.
Brandon Shields, 425-9751