Why We Struggle with Athletics: An Open Letter to the Dade School Board

February 9, 2020

Editor's Note: This is a letter Tony Moreland wrote to the Dade B of E that he is sharing with the local media as a letter to the editor.


Dear Superintendent, Board Members, and Editors:


I am writing this letter to bring awareness and to stimulate conversation about an inequity in our high school sports that is glaringly apparent and needs attention. I am a parent of eight children, two who are grown and six who presently attend Dade County Schools.


Recently, our latest football coach resigned after one year. In his explanation of why he left for Marion County Tennessee's Head Coaching job he said that he wanted to go to a "football school."


He is simply the latest coach to resign and move on after winning here proved to be very difficult. Except for Coach Bradley Warren, who was from Dade, we have had many short-term coaches through the years. Many of these coaches were very successful both before and after being here but could not win while here and left of their own accord or were let go because of the lack of success. So, what happened to all these coaches? Did they simply lose the ability to coach while here even though they were successful other places before arriving? Did they suddenly remember how to coach after they left? There are successful coaches all over this area, some we compete against, who once coached here.


So, the next suspect in our inability to win is our kids. Apparently, we simply breed inferior athletes in this part of the world. Why are we not a "football school?" It must also be true that other places produce superior athletes and that is why they are so successful. Maybe like Calhoun, who didn't lose a region game for decades. Perhaps they simply have better children than we do.


Why is it that when our children are small and playing in recreation leagues in this area, Dade dominates? Ask how our kids do in rec football for example. We have, through the years, played in Tennessee Rec leagues but mostly Alabama rec leagues because they are closer. In all age groups Dade competes very well and almost always is one of the strongest teams in each group. Why do our kids suddenly stop being able to play sports when they enter high school? Why do so many kids get so discouraged they quit playing football or other sports. Many people say we have a ton of good players who won't play. We must produce kids who are inferior athletes, or too lazy to play. There must be something in the water.


I began to research this question in earnest several months ago. I mentioned it to several people and mostly got shoulder shrugs. That is simply the way it is here they would say. Dade County hired a legend as its coach last year and surely things would get better. A 2-8 season later and he is gone. He is not the only legend we have had here. None have stayed long.


So, if the issue isn't the coaches we hire, or the lazy athletes we have, or we aren't producing inferior athletes, what is the issue? I have found it to be very simple. School size. We are now the smallest school in our region. Every team we play, that counts towards the playoffs, is going to be against schools much larger than ours. In addition to this, because of our geographic location, we get the privilege of driving for two hours to Rome, Georgia, to get beat on many Fridays. No wonder our kids won't play. The deck is stacked heavily against them.


I have gone back for the last 15 years and looked closely at Dade County's record each year. In the last 15 years, our record is 53 wins and 101 losses. That is horrible you say but look closely at who we play. This past season Rockmart won the region championship. Dade County has approximately 635 students. Rockmart has 972. We have only beaten Rockmart 1 time in 7 tries. The miracle is that we beat them once. Coach Warren produced an unbelievable 10-2 record in 2010 and we beat Rockmart and several other teams for the only time that year. But maybe this is just an anomaly. Nope, look at the other teams we have played over the last 15 years. Rockmart is moving up to AAA next year. I'll make you a bet they don't win their region next year. Rockmart beat us 48-0.


The second team in size in our region is Gordon Central. Gordon Central has 920 students. This is the only exception to the bigger is better rule in our region. We have a winning record against Gordon Central. We have won 4 and lost 3 against them over the last 15 years. So, why is that? They are bigger and should beat us much more often, you say. It is no secret to anyone why Gordon Central is usually not as competitive in any sport as they should be. Remember that Calhoun team that didn't lose a region game in decades. It is well known that all the superior athletes in Gordon County somehow wind up at Calhoun instead of the school they are districted for.



For many years we played Sonoraville in our region. They are also bigger than us, but we beat them regularly. We hold a 5-1 record against them. They are in Gordon county also. Their best athletes also go to Calhoun. Calhoun, and many other city and private schools have been gaming the system for years.



This year the Georgia High School Association that governs high school sports finally intervened. They required these schools to count any student who was not zoned for that school as two students for the purposes of athletics. Calhoun, who didn't lose a region game for decades in AA, is being forced to play as an AAAAA school next year. Want to bet they don't go decades without losing a region game again? You have heard of a few other city and private schools that dominated AA in past years. Buford, Greater Atlanta Christian and Darlington come to mind. Darlington used to be in our region. We were 0-5 against them. In the last 15 years we played Calhoun 9 times and lost all 9. Gordon Central beat us this year 48-7.


The third team in size in our region last year was Pepperell. The coach at Pepperell is a great man and a Dade County native who played ball here. He would make a great next coach for us. Pepperell has over 900 students. They went 8-2 in the region. We have beaten Pepperell 1 time out of 7 tries in the last 15 years. Pepperell beat us 42-0.


The fourth team in the region was Model. They went 5-5. They have 877 students. We have beaten Model 2 times in the last 15 years. They have beaten us 7 times. Model beat us 21-6.


The fifth team in size--and wins--was Chattooga County. They have 764 students and went 5-5 also. We have beaten Chattooga 3 times over the last 15 years. They have beaten us 12 times. Chattooga beat us 33-12.


The sixth team in size was Coosa. They are the closest school to our size but still larger than us. They have 741 students and we beat them this year. Over the past 15 years we have played Coosa 13 times. We have won 3 and they have won 10. The math holds true. Bigger schools win more often. We beat Coosa 33-14.


We are the seventh school by attendance in our region. We won two games this year. We beat Coosa and Armuchee, which happen to be the only schools close to our size. A coincidence? Nope. Look at 15 years-worth of data. You will see that school size almost always equals wins.


Armuchee is the smallest school in our region. They have 24 fewer students than us.


That's right. They have 611 and we have 635. They are the only school in our region which we have a winning record against. We have beaten them 11 times over the last 15 years and they have beaten us two times. Again, the math continues the trend. Bigger schools almost always win. And the horrible news for us, Armuchee is moving down to single A which now makes us the smallest school in our region and one of the smallest AA schools in the state. We beat Armuchee 35-6.


What about some of the other schools we play who aren't in our region? We have played Gordon Lee 10 times in the last 15 years. We are 5 and 5 against them. So, many would say, why are we tied with them and they are a smaller school? They are an A school and we are an AA school. This is where it really gets infuriating.


Remember the rule that you must count people who attend your school as two students if they live outside your district? For no other reason than pure politics, single A schools are exempt from that rule. If Gordon Lee was forced to abide by the same rule, they would have 730 students. They are much larger than we are even though we are forced to play an AA schedule and they are not. Gordon Lee beat us 28-16.


Another longtime rival is Trion. They have beaten us four times and we have not beaten them at all. If they had to abide by the same rules as all other schools, their population would be 634. One less than us. Even though we seem evenly matched, remember that those kids that attend from outside the district are almost always good athletes, or the school would not accept them and subject their tax-payers to paying for someone's education who doesn't pay taxes in that district. There is a reason they accept those kids. Trion beat us 27-6.


Probably our most intense rivalry is with North Sand Mountain. They are right up the road; we all know each other and fill each other's stands up when we play. Alabama figures school attendance differently than Georgia schools. They only use three classes for attendance instead of four for athletic purposes. Kind of complicated, but North Sand Mountain High school has somewhere in the range of 250-300 students best I can tell. We are 3 and 5 against them over the last 15 years. Good job NSM, but we will get you soon. NSM beat us 28-26.


Have you noticed the score in relation to the school size? When we play schools even remotely close to our size, we do fine. Against huge schools, not so much. Doesn't take a math expert to see the trend.


In the last 15 years we have had four winning seasons. in 2009 we went 6-4. in 2010 we went 10-2, in 2013 we went 7-4 and in 2015 we went 6-5. In 11 of those years we had losing records. We lost all 10 games once, only won one game two times and only won two games in four of those years. The only thing shocking about these numbers is that we had any winning seasons. Great job to those athletes and coaches during those four years. You played and coached way above your weight class.


Dade County has a winning record against only five teams that we have played more than two times in those 15 years. We are 11-2 against Armuchee, 5-1 against Sonoraville, 4-3 against Gordon Central, and 2-0 against Murray County and Sequatchie County, Tenn. Gordon Central is the only team we have left on our region schedule that we have a winning record against.


So, what can we do? Continue to get beaten down every week of football season and drive two hours for the privilege? Continue to have our kids quit sports because they don't want to lose? I am sure those of you who attend our high school football games have noticed how much better our team travels than most others. Many times, at our home games the other team's stands are virtually empty, except for the band and a smattering of parents.


Also keep in mind that football income pays for most other sports. Paltry attendance means paltry money for golf, tennis, cross-country, et cetera.


My suggestion is to quit playing region sports. All sports, but especially football. School size hurts you most in football because of the number of athletes required to play. Many teams we face have 11 starters on offense and 11 different starters on defense. We have many players that must play both sides. I think it hurts in all sports, but we can be competitive in some sports that require fewer players.


So, what is the counter argument? The only one that is ever mentioned to me is that during the years you are good, you have no chance to play for a state title. That is true but is it worth 12 years of getting the snot beat out of you to go one or two rounds in the state playoffs in the other three? That is what happened to us over the last 15 years. We made the playoffs three times. We made it to the second round once. We are 1-3 in playoff games during the last 15 years in football.


What would happen if we scheduled games against local teams roughly our size or smaller? We could continue to play the teams we play now that are close to us in size and distance. Maybe Gordon Lee, Trion, Armuchee and North Sand Mountain. The other six games we could schedule teams close to us in Alabama and Tennessee. I came up with a list of 30 schools within a 45-minute drive that are our size or smaller. We could fill the stands up, have a legitimate chance to win and have more income for all sports. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.


I will be glad to share my findings with anyone who wishes to see more of the data or appear at a school board meeting if so desired. I simply want my kids to have a fair shake as they proceed through our school system.


I firmly believe that many of life's lessons can be taught through sports. Showing up on time, having your equipment, dealing with adversity, dealing with setbacks, coaches make mistakes, referees make mistakes, bosses make mistakes and sometimes it isn't fair. But just like in real life, we all want a shot at being successful. We can choose another path or be everyone’s homecoming game.


Go Wolverines!


--Tony Moreland



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