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Why Carroll County should explore the M.E.D.

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My address to the VHSL

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

 Two weeks ago, I would have found the idea of Carroll County entering the Mountain Empire District as ludicrous. When I first heard a rumor that Carroll was pursuing such a move to avoid placement in the Roanoke-centered River Ridge District, my reaction was what I imagine a lot of others’ would be. I laughed.

I think the rumor, at least when it was circulating, was unfounded, but it piqued my interest. And the more I looked at it, the more sense it made. I have no dog in this hunt, and I’m not standing before the VHSL to plead a case. If I were, though, this is what I would say:

 

Good morning, and thank you for allowing me to discuss Carroll County being placed into a district other than the River Ridge pending the VHSL’s approval of the six-classification system. While the Piedmont District has been mentioned as a secondary option, facts will show that membership in the Mountain Empire District would not only benefit the students of CCHS but would also be favorable to the River Ridge, the Piedmont and even the MED.

It will also become clear that there is nothing of benefit to either Carroll County or any member of the River Ridge or Piedmont should CCHS be placed in either of those districts.

As a lifelong resident of the county, the son of a longtime teacher-coach at CCHS, a student-athlete there and, for the past 22 years, as a sportswriter, I have watched CCHS become increasingly isolated by the dwindling populations of surrounding school districts.  Its athletic program now stands on an island because of school enrollment figures and geographic location, and is on course to be devastated for those reasons. No matter where it lands, Carroll will be an unwelcome member of its new district.

Though the VHSL is the governing body of public high school athletics in the state, I am certain that the academic pursuits, safety and general well-being of the students it oversees are given a much higher priority than anything that happens on the playing field. For that reason, several factors considered together are more than sufficient to warrant membership for Carroll in the MED.

1. Travel

High school athletes are classroom students first, and the amount of travel required of CCHS as a member of either the River Ridge or the Piedmont is reason in and of itself to place Carroll in the MED.

According to Google Maps, placement in the River Ridge would have CCHS’s students facing an average distance of 56 miles and an average travel time, one-way, of 1 hour and 20 minutes for district road games. Some of those games would be reached by traveling solely on two-lane U.S. 221 and would include a descent down a dangerous Bent Mountain.

In the Piedmont District, and excluding Patrick County, CCHS would have an average distance of 81 miles and 1 hour, 45 minutes. All of those games would include at least 50 minutes on two-lane U.S. 58, and a descent down Lover’s Leap Mountain.

That would be similar to Richlands traveling to Johnson City, Tenn., for the average district road trip.

Google Maps doesn’t offer calculations for travel by school bus, so actual times will be greater.

In either district, the amount of class time missed, either in early dismissals for departures or in late arrivals the morning after, would be huge.

It should also be noted that CCHS is the county’s only high school and some athletes have a drive of 45 minutes by car just to get to or from school. In effect, by placing Carroll into the River Ridge or Piedmont, the VHSL would be asking many students to choose between giving up athletics or giving up studying. They shouldn’t be forced to ask that of themselves.

By comparison, the average time and distance from CCHS to the six current Mountain Empire District schools stand at 37 miles and 47 minutes, or roughly half that of the River Ridge distances.

2. Size Differences

Carroll would be a 4A school in a district with two 2As and four 1As. That is the biggest argument against such a move, but an unnecessary one.

First, the VHSL has already set a precedent for such a  district by placing 6A Franklin County and Patrick Henry in the River Ridge with four 3A schools. Five other proposed districts would include spreads over four classifications.

Second, no school is required to play a district member in any sport that is three classifications larger or smaller. Four current MED schools would not be made to play Carroll. Again, the VHSL has set a precedent. In two other proposed districts, the River Ridge and the Colonial, at least half the memberships would be exempt from competing against other district team(s) for reasons of size discrepancy.

3. Competition

From a competition standpoint, placing Carroll into the MED would not create a significant imbalance in most sports. It would not be like placing Salem or Hidden Valley into the Pioneer District. In its 43 years, CCHS has never won a state championship in a team sport and has never won a district championship in football. Region championships in any sport are very few. And under the 6A system, district championships would have no bearing in determining postseason berths, and each school would participate past the district level only against like-sized schools.

CCHS plays projected 1A school Galax in all sports and 2A Grayson County in everything but girls’ basketball and wrestling. Those games are competitive on a regular basis. Graham has been on Carroll’s all-sports schedule as recently as 2010, and Fort Chiswell has been on Carroll’s football schedule as recently as 2000.

Bland County and Narrows would most likely have no desire to play Carroll, and vice versa. They would not be required to do so, nor would Galax or Fort Chiswell unless they so chose.

In that same vein, Carroll’s enrollment can be a very misleading figure. A school of 1,200 students in a rural location, drawing from a widely-dispersed population, is far from being on equal footing with an urban or suburban school of the same size, and is utterly incomparable to a city school of 1,900 students (Patrick Henry) or to any school of nearly 2,200 (Franklin County).

Carroll County is fewer than 80 students away from qualifying as a 3A school under the 6A format, and the true pool of students from which Carroll has to draw its athletes is more comparable to that of an average-sized Group A school. Just 9 percent of Carroll students – 114 of 1,195 in four grades, male and female – are participating in fall sports.

For example, Carroll County and Bassett are virtually identical in size. Carroll has 54 football players total on its varsity and JV teams, Bassett has 44 on varsity alone. Ten of Carroll’s players are also listed on the JV roster, leaving 30 varsity-only players, the same number as Galax. By comparison, projected 2A Grayson’s numbers are in the 60s, grades 9-12, with 40 on the varsity roster.

4. Finance

Secondary to all this but still noteworthy is the financial impact of Carroll’s placement into the River Ridge or Piedmont.

Football is the main fundraising arm of the athletic department. With the flexibility in scheduling local nondistrict opponents virtually eliminated in an eight-team district schedule, coupled with a lack of desire by fans to travel from the Roanoke Valley or Rocky Mount to Hillsville, gate revenue for Carroll County would plummet.

Conversely, gate receipts would be robust for Carroll in the MED, and for any MED school that hosts it. At the same time, the River Ridge or Piedmont schools would be free to schedule one more attractive nondistrict opponent that could all but ensure a large gate.

I believe that if the MED members objectively consider the revenue, competition, potential ratings points and the fact that four current members would not be obligated to compete with Carroll against their wishes, such a move would not be viewed as an outrageous one, contrary to first impressions.

 

Many in Southwest Virginia perceive their schools as not being worthy of a second thought by the VHSL when it comes to legislation. I ask that you put your children in the places of these CCHS students, and yourselves in the place of their parents, and that you reflect upon whether or not you would subject them to what you would be requiring academically, financially, competitively and socially should they be placed in the River Ridge or the Piedmont.

I am not talking only about athletes. These are student-athletes, young men and women who willfully pull the double duty and endure the long hours necessary to maintain both their studies and their level of competition on the field of play.

There is no good option for Carroll County, but there is a best option. The MED is that option.

If you truly hold the welfare of these students in your interests, you will allow them to compete in the MED. There is no other solution that simultaneously can be fair to the students of CCHS, to those of the River Ridge and Piedmont districts, and be acceptable to the Mountain Empire District while exhibiting and upholding the integrity of the VHSL.

Thank you for your time.