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Fear not, MED, all is well

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Graham will be an instant district contender in just about everything, but don’t go giving away the keys to the MED trophy vault just yet.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

You may have been surprised to learn recently about Graham’s plan to exit the Southwest District and join the single-A ranks as a member of the Mountain Empire District, beginning in the fall of 2011. You may have been dismayed, or you may have been happy, especially you Carroll County fans who will no longer have to go to Grundy, which is also dropping to Group A status in ‘11. If you’re Galax in particular, you should actually welcome the move. But chances are that if you follow high school sports in the Twin Counties, you weren’t indifferent to the news. No doubt there are folks in Tazewell County who believe the G-Men will drop down and immediately take outright ownership of the MED. There are probably folks in the MED who feel the same way. I am not among them. The Mountain Empire District takes plenty of abuse on message boards from followers of other districts who feel their leagues are vastly superior to the MED (keyword: vastly). As a whole the MED isn’t the strongest in Region C, but it is strong enough on a team-by-team basis to give just about any Single-A school a battle in just about any sport. Let’s leave football out of the discussion for a moment. Name a sport and there is a team that the MED can put up against just about anyone geographically close enough to join the district.  The MED has had state champions or runners-up in golf, baseball, boys’ soccer, boys’ tennis and girls’ basketball in the last five years and has won at least four state titles in individual sports just as recently. Yes, Graham will be an instant district contender in just about everything, but don’t go giving away the keys to the MED trophy vault just yet. And any competition gap between Graham and its new district mates will lessen over time (see: Radford, Giles, George Wythe, et al). Graham will be a very nice fit in the MED in most sports. Football? Well, now, that may take a while. No Mountain Empire District school can match Graham in terms of football tradition. Outside of Giles, few (if any) in Region C can. It is a football school, and if one listens to Graham fans, the program has fallen on hard times with back-to-back 4-6 seasons. Graham has remained competitive nonetheless. In the six seasons since winning the Region IV Division 3 championship in 2003, the school has gone 23-17 and reached the region finals three times. Despite being Group A in size for at least 20 years, the G-Men are just 10 years removed from their most recent AA state championship game appearance in football.  If an MED school has won a region title since Fort Chiswell in 1989, I can’t recall. No offense to Bland County or Narrows, but if I were a Green Wave or Bears fan I wouldn’t exactly relish a yearly meeting with Graham. I doubt many from Galax, Grayson or Fort do, either. I’m just thankful Pocahontas closed down before having to play them. But while Graham football has been on a decline, the MED is getting better, with Fort Chiswell winning 10 games this year, Bland enjoying its best season ever last year, Galax loaded with talent and Grayson poised to bounce back from a two-year mark of 3-17. Surely the current MED schools will take some skull-thumpings on an individual basis in just about every sport, but as a whole, the five current members will win their share of district championships. It’s not as if some massive juggernaut is invading the district. If it were to join the MED today, Graham’s average daily attendance of 523 students would make it just the third-largest school in terms of enrollment, and that is why Galax should be happy with the move. Galax is the largest Division 1 school in Region C, just 20 students smaller than Division 2 Auburn. A 10-student swing at the two schools could have Galax competing against the likes of Radford, George Wythe, Floyd County and Giles in the postseason, so the addition of Graham to the region adds some cushion between Galax and Division 2 status. And remember this: Whatever happens will likely be only temporary as drastic change to the Virginia high school sports landscape seems to be on the horizon. At least Mitchell Stadium is a whole lot easier to get to than Pocahontas.