Currently scheduled to begin competing athletically in the 2020-21 school year, the new school would have a Class 6A enrollment of 1,700 students. However, joining the TSSAA in that year would prevent the school’s first football team from having a chance to compete in the postseason.
“If a new school joins in the middle of a classification cycle, and schedule and contracts are signed, the new school is not eligible for the playoffs until the cycle is completed,” said TSSAA assistant executive director Matthew Gillespie. “They are told that on the front end.”
The new school would move into Region 1-6A in football and the current Big Seven Conference for other sports. It would be eligible right off the bat for the playoffs in all sports other than football.
The creation of the new school would go hand in hand with Sullivan East having its enrollment size increased. However, the Patriots do not expect to be bumped out of their current classification of Class 4A for football and Class AA for other sports.
“We don’t know how many kids it will affect for East, but we think there’s a good chance we stay where we are when it’s all said and done,” said East athletic director John Dyer. “We might get a few Sullivan Central kids.”
East has an enrollment of 870 students. In order to be moved into a new classification, the school would have to add 174 students. And even by adding that many, it would not necessarily move the Patriots from Class 4A in football or Class AA in other sports — although it would move them up the ladder in those classifications as far as size goes.
One thing pretty certain is the size of the Class 4A football league will drop from seven teams to five. It is possible the TSSAA could move Anderson County into Region 1, but that would be a Board of Control decision, said Gillespie. Regardless, Region 1-4A would lose two contracted games, as Sullivan Central and Sullivan South would no longer be schools.
Whatever the case, the new Sullivan school should have a big enough enrollment to be a significant factor in area sports right off the bat. That was the case for Sullivan South and Sullivan North when they came on board in 1980. Both were competitive that first football season, and the Raiders had some state-level basketball and baseball teams shortly after opening. Before the first decade was complete, both North and South had earned Class AAA state baseball championships.
“Closing three schools and opening one definitely changes the landscape,” said Dyer. “We’re happy for the new high school, but we don’t want to change. We want to stay where we are.”