At their June 3 meeting, the Hawkins Co. Board of Education discussed potentially combining baseball, softball and volleyball teams from Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle Schools.

Though the board approved 10 of the 12 presented sports co-ops at the meeting, the approval of this proposed new combination was postponed for further discussion.

In fact, the system’s athletic committee took up the matter at their June 15 meeting, though that committee’s decision was not available by the Review’s presstime on Monday evening.

Further information on the committee’s discussion and decision will be available in the Weekend edition of the Review.

For now, according to “the word on the street,” the potential co-op is quite controversial among the Surgoinsville and Church Hill communities.

History of sports co-ops

Aside from the potential new co-op between Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle, many of the sports co-ops that the board approved on June 3 have been in existence for many years. Each of these came about when one school either did not have enough students to make up a sports team or did not have the resources that another school had.

For example, Cherokee and Volunteer High Schools have both a combined bowling and swimming team, as the swimming team uses the pool in Kingsport for practice, and the only bowling alley in the county is located in Rogersville.

“Losing their sports identity”

Board member Tecky Hicks expressed his concern over the potential co-op at the June 3 meeting.

“I don’t want to do anything that would impede kids from participating, but what bothers me is when we start doing these sports co-op things, we’re going to have schools that lose their sports identity,” he said. “How are we going to know going forward that the participation level at a particular school is not going to support that school if we don’t have tryouts in every individual school?”

When Hicks expressed concern over what these co-op teams would be called, Director of Schools Matt Hixson explained that “it depends on the sport.” He pointed out that the joint swim team is called “Hawkins County Swim Team” but the combined bowling team is called “Cherokee Bowling Team” even though there are Volunteer students on the team.

He further explained that student interest in particular sports is surveyed each year prior to that sport’s season. This helps to determine if a school has enough students to form a team or if there is interest in a co-op.

“We review these annually because it is our hope that each school farms its own team,” Hixson explained. “But sometimes, due to facility needs, or due to lack of turnout, or due to a lack of finding coaches — any of those rationales are good reasons to co-op. We’re seeing surrounding counties do the same. Washington County, for example, does middle school co-ops, and several other systems do the same because they either have low student turnout for individual sports or lack of available coaches.”

Hixson noted that, in the case of both Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle, the surveys did indicate those two issues.

“We don’t want to exclude—nor have we ever, to my knowledge—excluded willingly or without trying to get participation from students,” he added.

In instances where the system has difficulty finding a coach, he explained that, “without the co-op, there is no opportunity for those students. With the co-op, there is an additional opportunity for those students that want to participate, even if they have to travel to another site within the system.”

Historically, Hixson noted that the system has seen no issue with students being unable to participate in a co-op due to lack of transportation. In some cases, students carpool. In others, the system has allowed students to be bussed to the practice location.

Combining rivals

Board member Judy Trent told the board that she was “puzzled” at the idea of combining Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle schools’ baseball and softball teams.

She noted that, from her experience, baseball, softball and volleyball were “major activities” in the Surgoinsville area and garnered lots of participation. She also pointed to the fact that the two schools have long been considered rivals.

“I don’t want to take that away from Surgoinsville because that’s where people are interested,” Trent said. “They want to go see their kid play on their field that they played when they were young. It builds community relationships to have those activities at their own school.”

Hixson reiterated that both schools did have low participation and/or inconsistent coaches last year, but he explained that he was willing to take a look at this co-op again to see if it is necessary.

The co-ops that were approved by the board on June 2 were between Cherokee and Volunteer for the aforementioned bowling and swimming teams; Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle and Volunteer for wrestling; Bulls Gap, Rogersville Middle and Cherokee for wrestling; Rogersville Middle, Clinch and Cherokee for baseball and softball; Clinch and Cherokee for football; Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle for golf; Rogersville Middle, Rogersville City, Bulls Gap and Clinch soccer; Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle soccer; and all sports at Church Hill Middle and Intermediate.