The crowning of the champion of another GHSA sport will call Macon home.
The championship stage will return to the city’s historic ballpark May 21-23 with the GHSA expanding host sites for its state championship series to include Luther Williams Field. The expansion from two neutral sites to four also adds the University of Georgia’s Foley Field in addition to last year’s host venues — Savannah’s Grayson Stadium and the Rome’s State Mutual Stadium.
And the recent improvements made to Luther Williams Field, which will host the Macon Bacon this summer in professional baseball’s return to Macon, played a significant role in attracting the GHSA.
Planned improvements to Luther Williams include additional concession stands, repairing and repainting of seats and renovating of restroom facilities, in addition to picnic and VIP areas down the right and left field lines.
“(It was a) huge factor. The upgrades that were asked for and they offered, it was a huge factor,” said GHSA Assistant Executive Director Ernie Yarbrough, also the GHSA’s coordinator for baseball championships.
With four sites instead of two, the championship series, which will be best-of-three, gain flexibility in case of weather and graduations. Instead of having to host four state championship matchups at each field, just two will be hosted at each location. Fewer games at each facility than last year will also prevent games from being played in late-morning hours rather than late afternoon or evening time slots that teams and fans are accustomed to.
“That helps a great deal. When you have weather at one site, it may effect one or two classifications,” Yarbrough said. “Last year when we had four classes at one site, weather effected it and forced us to finish the next week.”
Selecting sites to host this year’s state title series is the easy part of the GHSA. The bigger hurdle will be putting the puzzle together after the second or possibly third round of the playoffs and determine which classifications play state title series at what site.
“We’ll kind of get a feel for what it looks like. Some classifications will be easier than others, for example, like 7A, they are all metro Atlanta with the exception of the one region in south Georgia,” Yarbrough said. “Most of the Class A Private are Macon north, so that one is a bit easier to figure.”
Yarborough expects that limiting team travel will be a key consideration.
“We are trying to limit travel for not just the teams, but the spectators as well. We are playing games at 5 and 7:30 p.m. and it won’t be like last year where by virtue of the draw teams would play at 11 a.m. on a weekday,” Yarbrough said. “It made it tough on the students to get there but also tough on the adult spectators. We think that is another advantage it will help.”
Count Tattnall Square head coach Joey Hiller among those hoping that each championship venue is as true of a neutral site as possible.
Last year, Tattnall advanced to the state title series against Savannah Christian. Trouble for the Trojans was that the determined neutral site was in Savannah. So while Tattnall and its fans had a drive of more than two hours compared to a very short trip for Savannah Christian.
“Last year, I thought it was unfair that we had to travel to Savannah to play in their backyard,” Hiller said. “But if it had been like it was (before neutral sites were used), we would have gone to Savannah Country Day because they were ahead of us in the power ratings, we had no leg to stand on. ... If you’re going to do a neutral site, it needs to be neutral and they need to take every precaution they can make it neutral.”
Still, Hiller, whose teams have played for state titles in both the GISA and GHSA ranks, is glad to see an increased flexibility for fitting games into time windows when it comes to settling champions.
“I think it’s a good idea. Any time you can have more options, you can be in better shape and please more people,” Hiller said. “I’m glad they’re adding more sites because it will hopefully help, maybe that gives you more options.”