Two area high school football teams headed north last fall. Rather than playing their region games within 25 or so miles of home, they bused to Knoxville and beyond.
"I don't know why they sent us north. We've always gone south — well, at least as far back as I can remember," McMinn Central coach Josh Goodin said this week.
His team's results weren't even mixed. Although graduation and injuries played a part, the Chargers fell from 10-3 and a three-game run in the 2014 playoffs to 2-8 in 2015.
The experience was different for Bradley Central.
"Loved it," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said of the Bears' foray into the Super 32, a short-lived league of the state's largest teams that will be history after this season. "Other than the travel, it was great, but being in 6A meant we were on an island. There are no other 6A teams in southeast Tennessee, so we knew we'd be traveling."
The travel included trips to Kingsport (Dobyns-Bennett), Dandridge (Jefferson County) and Maryville. Floyd chartered two buses for each trip at $1,000 each, and the team ate pregame meals on the road and postgame snacks on the ride home, usually pizza or some kind of sandwich with chips and bottled water. The Bears came out OK financially but only because Floyd did some extra fundraising over the summer.
McMinn Central got off a little easier on the travel, going to Loudon and Alcoa for Region 2-3A games. The Chargers' 2016 Region 2-3A schedule includes games at Kingston, Christian Academy of Knoxville and Scott County, the longest of all the trips.
The Chargers appealed to the TSSAA to stay in Region 3-3A with Chattanooga-area teams, but York Institute, which also was placed in Region 2, appealed first and was allowed to stay in a more geographically feasible area.
Region 2 includes two of the state's top 3A teams, and Goodin says Alcoa and CAK should be the top pair representing the region in the postseason.
"Alcoa and CAK are head-and-shoulders above everybody else," he said. "Everybody else is fairly comparable, and the rest of us lost about the same amount of talent and experience."
Bradley, meanwhile, is in a region that includes perennial power Maryville and perennial playoff participants Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill. Others in the league are Hardin Valley, Bearden, Jefferson County and William Blount.
"Maryville has been in the state championship game at least 10 consecutive seasons," Floyd reminded.
That said, Bradley actually held its own despite possessing the second-smallest student enrollment among the Super 32 teams. The Bears were 7-4. However, video from the Bearden game showed conclusively that Bradley was denied a two-point conversion that would've provided a last-seconds win, and the Bears lost a first-round playoff game to Blackman in the final minute.
Both area teams were able to retain traditional rivalries. McMinn Central's nonregion schedule includes Polk County, McMinn County and Meigs County, while Bradley continues always anticipated games with nearby rivals Cleveland and Walker Valley and with McMinn County in the state's second-oldest rivalry.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.