Sullivan Central gets short end of classification

Douglas Fritz • Oct 17, 2012 at 8:57 PM

Sullivan South moved to the Class AA ranks, but Sullivan Central fell one spot short.

The TSSAA released its classification breakdown Wednesday, and Sullivan South’s enrollment of 978 moved it from Class AAA to Class AA for all sports. The Rebels have until Oct. 24 to decide if they want to remain in Class AAA, but it is very unlikely they would choose that path.

As for Sullivan Central, the Cougars landed as the state’s smallest Class AAA school with an enrollment of 1,017. That leaves the Cougars at a level where they have a difficult time competing.

In a recent football game, Central was beaten 75-0 by Dobyns-Bennett. And the Cougars struggle for chances to finish in the top half of just about sport in the Big Eight Conference.

Classification changes take effect beginning with the 2013-14 school year and run through 2016-17.

Other notable changes for area schools included Elizabethton and Unicoi County moving up to Class 4A for football playoff purposes. Also, Unaka dropped from Class 2A to Class 1A, and Morristown East moved up to Class 6A.

South Greene moved to Class A for all sports. The Rebels will be Class 2A for the football playoffs.

The TSSAA will prepare districts on Oct. 25. They will be officially set during the Board of Control meeting on Nov. 15.

Elizabethton athletic director Mike Wilson said the move to Class 4A in football was not a problem or a surprise.

“We are not disappointed,” said Wilson. “It doesn’t bother me.”

The Cyclones will compete with Greeneville in the football playoffs, but will no longer have to deal with powerhouses like Christian Academy of Knoxville and Alcoa. Greeneville has been the three straight Class 4A title games, but Elizabethton defeated the Greene Devils in the 2009 regular season when Greeneville made it first state championship appearance.

And as Wilson pointed out, there are rarely any bargains deep in the playoffs regardless of classification.

“When you get three games into the playoffs, you’re playing somebody pretty good,” he said.

As for Unicoi County, the Blue Devils’ football team is trying to earn its first Class 3A appearance this season. So there’s no history to gauge between 3A and 4A.

“We are just taking it in stride,” said athletic director Michael Smith. “I knew it would be close. It’s just a challenge, and we will have to work harder.”

Meanwhile, Unaka’s move down in the football playoffs could help the Rangers. Unaka lost in both of its Class 2A playoff appearances (2009 and 2010).

When Sullivan South joins the Three Rivers Conference, the Rebels will add strength in football.

“They are always really good in football,” said Smith. We’ve struggled with them. And in basketball, I like the addition. They are well-coached.”

South will be welcomed into the Three Rivers Conference with open arms, said Wilson.

“I’m thrilled South will be in our league,” Wilson said. “They will be a great addition. We were hoping to get Central as well.

“We would have liked to have both of them. An eight-team league is perfect.”

Smith agreed with Wilson about the conference size.

“An eight-team conference is the best because you don’t have to worry about byes in the district,” said Smith.

As for other sports, there was some good news for the Lady Blue Devils’ softball program. Perennial state powerhouse Corryton Gibbs moved into the Class AAA ranks. Gibbs eliminated Unicoi in the Class AA sectional back in May.

“We will just keep working until we can beat a team like that,” said Lady Blue Devils’ softball coach Grady Lingerfelt. “There will be another team that will come along and be tough. Gibbs has always been a good team, but CAK will be just as strong.”

The most notable sport for South in the Three Rivers Conference will be volleyball. South won Class AAA state volleyball titles in 1995, 1996 and finished state runner-up in 1998, 2005 and 2006. South also won the state in 1984.

“No doubt they will be tough in volleyball,” said Smith. “They’ve done it before, and they have a chance to go to the state this year in Class AAA.”

As for South Greene, it easily moved into the Class A ranks with an enrollment of 491. There are nine Class A schools across the state with bigger enrollments.

The first thing this move brings to mind is the Lady Rebels’ basketball program, which has been playing at a state tournament level in Class AA for many years. South Greene could move back into the state title mix at the Class A level.

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