High School Sports

Northside playoff game moved to Peach County

The decision wasn’t made until Sunday, but the call was pretty clear two days earlier.

Even before Northside kicked off against Dalton on Friday in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAAA playoffs, Eagles head coach Kevin Kinsler saw that the turf at McConnell-Talbert Stadium wasn’t of the quality needed for the playoffs.

A night later, Houston County and Sequoyah tore it up some more in a playoff game in the rain.

“It was a rough situation,” said Kinsler, who then talked with Houston County head coach Von Lassiter after the Bears’ 42-13 win. “I already knew what the situation was.”

And a visit on a rainy Sunday confirmed Kinsler’s expectation that an alternative must be found, so the Eagles will host Glynn Academy on Friday night at Peach County in the third round of the playoffs.

“Ultimately, this is about kids from both schools that have been working for over a year for this season to be a success,” Kinsler said. “I just don’t want anything like field conditions to be a factor in the outcome of the game. Just trying to do what was best, especially for a third-round state playoff game.

“This is not an easy decision to make. Nobody feels good about the situation. I’m just doing what I think is best for everybody.”

Kinsler raved about Peach County head coach Chad Campbell’s assistance – their first conversation about the possibility was Sunday – as well as others in the Peach County school system in the change.

Kinsler said a big reason for choosing Peach County was familiarity. The teams scrimmage annually and did so in Fort Valley in 2013.

Kinsler said the move was approved Monday morning by the GHSA.

Warner Robins, Houston County and Northside call McConnell-Talbert home, and the field gets a little less wear and tear with all three being in the same region, thus avoiding more Thursday and Saturday games.

But the field is used by others, Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way said, including the middle school championship and a charity event, not to mention a few big civic events each year.

Still, he was equally surprised and not surprised with the decision.

“It gets real thin in the middle, between the hashes and all that,” Way said. “I didn’t know it was bad enough that they would have to move the game.

“It’s been a lot worse at some times.”

Former Warner Robins boys basketball head coach Chip Malone was the primary caretaker of the field until he was slowed in 2010 by heart disease.

Campbell has been at McConnell-Talbert twice this season, to scrimmage Northside and open the season with Warner Robins.

He said, and Way agreed, that it already was showing signs of potential issues, with some patches of weeds and dirt.

Kinsler wouldn’t look ahead but did admit a little peek into the future, because another consideration is the quality of the field should Northside and Houston County both win Friday.

Houston County would be at home regardless of who wins between Jones County and Mays, while Northside would host if lower-seeded Gainesville beats Allatoona. If Allatoona and Northside win, a coin flip to host will be held.

So next week could be another two-game weekend in the semifinals.

“Maybe a week off, some work can be done,” Kinsler said. “But if it’s not, I’m going to do what I think is best. If we get there, I’ll cross that bridge.”

McConnell-Talbert has undergone renovations in recent years - almost $3 million worth - and an upgrade to the drainage system was on the list, along with a press box on the visitors' side, new lights and track and updated rest rooms.

Work on the field itself wasn’t part of the equation, and Way estimated that the last re-sodding of the turf between the hash marks was after the 2009 season when there were two Thursday games and four Saturday games to go with every Friday night.

That season began with games on each of the three nights.

“It just got destroyed,” Way said of 2009. “There were a lot of bad weather games that season.”

The county spent about $12,000 in May of 2010 to replace the sod.

There is money from a SPLOST allocated for a new stadium at Houston County that would be home to the Bears and Veterans, but Monday's move is likely to accelerate talk about field turf at McConnell-Talbert, which would still host Warner Robins and Northside.

Kinsler isn’t look past Friday night.

“Right now, my single focus is trying to get this football team through the third round and into the fourth round of the state playoffs,” he said. “But I think this is what’s best for our kids and for their kids.”