Peach County middle school athletic teams merge

FORT VALLEY -- Athletes from Peach County’s two middle schools will play in one combined program under one team name for the 2012-13 school year.

The teams will play as the Byron Middle School Eagles, and there will be no changes to team colors.

The issue arose when Peach County Athletic Director Chad Campbell learned that Fort Valley Middle School would not be able to participate in its usual league during the upcoming school year.

The Bibb County Schools League, in which Fort Valley Middle has competed since 2000, decided it would be more cost efficient to cut down on travel expenses by limiting competition to Bibb County. The change would also allow Bibb’s seven middle schools more opportunities to compete against each other, said Eddie Ashley, Bibb’s athletic director.

Bibb County would only allow Peach County to participate in track, in which Fort Valley and Byron middle schools are already combined, Campbell said.

Without another league within a two-hour radius able to take on an extra team -- including the Central Georgia Middle School Athletic League which currently holds Byron Middle School and 14 other teams -- Fort Valley Middle was put in a bind.

Superintendent Joe Ann Denning said the district’s hands were tied in the situation, adding that she could not imagine providing students at one school an opportunity to participate in sports while students on the other end of the district cannot.

That sentiment led Campbell to propose merging the two programs for at least one year.

“I think this is about as fair as you can get, in my opinion,” Campbell said. “It’s been a long 3 or 4 weeks, trust me in this matter. It hasn’t been easy to come up with some of the things we did. Hopefully, this is a temporary fix to the problem we were handed. I don’t know how much more we could have done in the time frame we were allowed.”

Permission has been granted by the CGMS league for Fort Valley Middle to join Byron in the league for the upcoming year. Plans for Fort Valley’s participation in future years, as a separate team or continuing as a combined program, are still up in the air.

Campbell said consideration was given to all stakeholders, but all other options were exhausted.

“It is a tough pill for us to swallow on either end,” Johnson said, adding that the decision was the best decision for all students in the system.

Board members approved the plan 4-0.

Board member Virginia Dixon was not in attendance, but delivered a written statement through board chairman Jamie Johnson.

“We are one county and at some point we need to make unified decisions in the best interests of the children and the whole system,” her statement read.

The plan will allow sixth-graders to try out for the teams, and if they are able to contribute to the team, they will be able to play, Campbell said.

“They have to be able to help the team out, not just take up a uniform,” he said.

All baseball, softball and football practices will be held in Byron, where they have better facilities provided by the recreation department, Campbell said.

Basketball practices will alternate schools with boys and girls practicing at opposite locations and allowing both teams to practice at the same time.

Track will continue to be held in Fort Valley.

Transportation will be provided by district and parents can pick up students at their respective schools after practices.

Home games for baseball, softball and basketball will be held at Byron, while football games will be held at Peach County High School.

All track meets will be in Bibb County, as they have been in past years.

There will be no changes to cheerleading, dance or band uniforms, which include the school’s separate colors. The bands will play together, Campbell said.

Soccer will be discussed at an Aug. 13 meeting with the Central Georgia league, since there are currently not enough teams in the league to offer the sport this year. Campbell said an update will be presented to the board after that meeting.

‘‘The reason why we tried to come up with this, the facilities up in Byron in terms of practicing and playing are so much better (than what we have in Fort Valley),’’ Campbell said. ‘‘They have water access and pitching machines. The facilities in Byron belong to the recreation department, not the school district.’’

Campbell said they can look at correcting that -- making sure Fort Valley equipment and playing areas are up to par -- in the future.

Funds from admissions will go straight to Byron Middle, Campbell said.

‘‘Fort Valley will have no expenses in athletics, so whatever they have in there this year, will be there next year,’’ Campbell said.

“If there is a problem, I will help out in whatever way I can,” he said.

Campbell said he doesn’t foresee an issue with the number of athletes that will be able to participate or not due to combining the teams.

During a community forum earlier this month, parents voiced concerns over a number of issues with that plan.

Among them were criticism of disallowing many students an opportunity to participate in sports by combining the schools in a system in which the best players overall make the team; and thoughts that the unsupervised time created by cutting these would-be athletes could lead students to venture down the wrong path.

Less than a dozen parents and students showed up Tuesday to hear the decision, compared to the packed house which came to voice their concerns at the community forum weeks earlier.

Jonna Teston attended Tuesday’s meeting with her son, who will be an eighth-grader at Byron Middle.

She said her concern was that her son and other players would be unable to play now that more players were trying out for the team.

“It’d be a crying shame for him not to be able to play as an eighth-grader after playing for two years,” she said.

Brian Harrelson said that although he didn’t agree with the decision, he thought the district made the best decision for all students in the county.

New calendar unveiled

Board members also approved a revised calendar for the upcoming school year.

The board decided earlier this month to pushed back the start of the year due to ongoing heating, ventilation and air conditioning installation at several district schools.

Classes for the 2012-13 school year will begin Sept. 4, two weeks later than the initial Aug. 13 start date.

School will now end May 31, one week later than initially planned.

Denning said the revised calendar is pretty close to the first calendar though some vacation periods were trimmed.

Delaying the start of school could save the district $75,000 in overtime costs paid to subcontractors working seven days a week, Jimmy Williams of Dublin Construction told board members earlier this month. Construction is still expected to continue Monday through Saturday, but with the delay should be completed by the new start date.

Board chairman Jamie Johnson relayed a message for Dixon, who was absent from the meeting, expressing concern over the start and dismissal times of each school day. Dixon reiterated previous issues with a gap between the start of the middle school day and the elementary school day, potentially leaving young students without supervision or putting parents in a bind when it comes to dropping off their students.

New school hours were approved in May, as the district plans to return to a five-day school week. During the 2012-13 school year, high school students’ schedule will be 7:15 a.m. to 2:47 p.m.; middle school, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; and elementary, 8:35 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Board member Ben McDaniel agreed with Dixon’s concerns, prompting Denning to say said school officials are considering changes to those times and may revisit the issue later.

The board will meet again Thursday at 8 a.m. to approve its Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 256-9751.