Middle school state hoops tournament to start in 2019

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By Robby O'Daniel

It’s a reality: a middle school state basketball tournament is on the horizon.

According to the minutes of the TSSAA Board of Control meeting held on Nov. 16: “The Board approved the staff’s recommendation to begin hosting a TMSAA state basketball championship. These championships will begin in February of 2019. It will be a final four concept and will take place on a Friday night and Saturday. The plan is to use a high school and middle school in Middle Tennessee, preferably held on the same campus.”

Currently the furthest a middle school basketball team in the area can progress is to sectionals in Sevierville. Starting in 2019, winning that sectional tournament won’t be the end of the season. It’ll be a ticket to state.

“Schools will be placed in three classes, each class will have 4 sectionals and then among the sections, schools will be placed in areas,” said Richard McWhirter, TSSAA assistant executive director. “Schools do not have to participate in regular season in their area, but if they choose to play in the tournament series, they have to play in the area TMSAA puts them in when the tournament begins. The top team from each section advances to the state. Classification will be completed by February 9, 2018.”

Wanda Snodgrass, longtime former Jacksboro Middle Lady Eagles head coach, brought her fair share of teams to sectionals in Sevierville, and she’s glad that a middle school state tournament is beginning.

“I think it’s great,” Snodgrass said. “I think that our area, our district could really benefit from that. We have some really good athletes, and I really wish that that had been in place years before, especially when I had several winning seasons and could have possibly placed very well in those. But I think it’s a great opportunity, and I think it’s been a long time coming. Like I said, I think the district will embrace that idea, and I think you’ll see some really good athletes come from this area and be recognized that should be.”

Current Jacksboro boys head coach Cody Parker wishes more teams made the state tournament under the new plan.

“I think it’s a really neat concept,” Parker said. “I wish they would have broadened the field a little bit more to where you didn’t have to win your sectional, necessarily, but maybe take the top two from your sectional and then go to Murfreesboro, pit you on opposite sides of the bracket. But hey, they’re going to experiment with it and see how it goes, and you just got to go over there and win it. If you want to keep playing, you’ve got to win, so that’s just what everybody will try to do.”

Lady Eagles head coach Ryan Browning said a state tournament is good, but he is wary of shifting priorities.

“You want to see some of the middle schools win, but are they really getting them ready for high school?” Browning said. “And that’s the main thing. So hopefully, that’s one thing to add that, but hopefully, they still keep it the right integrity of the ballgame.”

LaFollette Lady Owls head coach Megan Seals said, “It’s exciting, and it’ll give them something to work for.”