Left a step outside of the District 5-AAA boys' basketball race a year ago, Rhea County decided to join the party this season.
The Golden Eagles even are fighting for the regular-season title in the rugged league. They are tied with Cleveland for first place with 6-2 district records, while Ooltewah and Bradley Central are right behind at 5-2. Bradley's Bears handed Rhea one of their two district losses but had to forfeit the victory for playing what the TSSAA considered an ineligible player. Rhea does not get credit for a win, and it isn't a loss for the Bears.
The 5-AAA tournament is at Bradley Central next month.
Last season, McMinn County went to the state tournament even though it entered the district tournament as the fourth seed. The Cherokees currently sit fifth and would be a tough out against whoever finishes fourth.
Some of the other area district boys' battles are tight, but in others a couple of teams have separated themselves from the pack.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/gh3sports.