Don't forget about athletics!
That is my only plea to the McDuffie County School Board and administration as planning gets started in earnest for the new school to be located on White Oak Road near Thomson High School.
I don't have a dog in the fight as to what the grade structure for the new school should be. The choice appears to be between a second traditional middle school with grades six, seven and eight or a school for eighth and ninth graders -- in essence, what used to be called a junior high.
I have total confidence that the decision will be based first and foremost on the academic well being of McDuffie County students. This is the way it should be.
I also know that the cost of the school, facility design based on student's needs and logistical matters such as transportation must also be considered. This is where I think the role of athletics in the school system should be included in the planning for the school as well.
Consideration of athletics in the school system and our community must be made beforehand in the planning and design process. By no means should a school be built and kids are ready to move in and someone then say, "what about the athletic program?"
Whether the school has its' own teams in the event that it becomes a middle school or it shares student-athletes with the two existing schools, the personnel and protocol needed for an athletic program must be taken into account during the decision making process, not afterwards.
To do otherwise could turn the school into a nightmare for players and coaches alike. It could also result in a public relations disaster for the school board if a lack of foresight adversely affects the fine athletic programs at Thomson Middle School and Thomson High School.
When planning sessions and public discussion starts on this issue there will be those that ask, "How's it going to affect football" first. Some will say, "To heck with sports, just build the school as cheap as possible."
I say both of these groups will be wrong.
It would be unwise to make football and athletics priority one, but it would be equally foolish to ignore how many of our young people involve themselves in the various sports teams. Decisions of this type must be considered, ones that have to last a lifetime.
The opening of the new Thomson High School in 1992 is an example of this. The weight room, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts and track were obviously either an afterthought or unaffordable. Only through administrative diligence and a couple of penny sales tax votes did these facilities finally evolve after 12 long years.
Both Thomson High and Thomson Middle schools have experienced, level-headed coaches that have been in this system for some time. I can't see any of them going off on a binge screaming that athletics will be destroyed based on how the new school turns out. They are not that selfish and are good enough people to realize that would be fruitless.
It would be more than just a courtesy if these coaches were asked to participate in the planning stage for the school as it pertains to athletics. Not because their opinions should be the only ones that count, but simply because their opinions should count early, not late. To leave them out could end up in them flying by the seat of their pants rather than executing a well thought out plan for athletics once the school is a reality. The student-athletes would suffer the most.
School sports teams provide pride and discipline. This has been especially true in McDuffie County for many years. It is imperative that this new school be an asset, not an impediment, to that tradition.
No one can rightfully say that to put athletics near the top of the list of priorities would result in downplaying academics. This school system has proven for a long time that the two can coexist successfully. Now is not the time to change that by hiding the ball until the first bell rings on the north side of White Oak Road.