Eagles helped out with new district

Published 11:27 am Thursday, November 29, 2012

Porters Chapel Academy’s next district assignment can be summed up in three words — location, location, location.

Beginning next fall, PCA will be placed in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools’ District 5-A. The other four football-playing members of the district are all within a 90-minute drive of Vicksburg. In sports other than football, all seven schools are located along an 80-mile stretch between Ridgeland and Tallulah.

Currently, PCA’s closest district opponent in football is Park Place Academy in Pearl. The basketball and baseball district is more travel-friendly, but still includes long trips to Newton Academy and Russell Christian in Meridian.

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“Those distances are a whole lot easier to work with. From our end, it’s not who’s in the district, it’s the logistics,” said Wade Patrick, PCA’s football and baseball coach. “When you’re traveling to Newton, and Russell, and Ben’s Ford in Bogalusa, it wears on you. When you’re getting back at 1 and 2 in the morning from a football game, it grinds on you over the course of a season.”

David Drake, MAIS Associate Director of Activities, said a number of schools had made pleas for more tightly-grouped districts, and the organization did its best to respond in this realignment cycle. The MAIS reclassifies its schools every two years based on enrollment.

In Class A, only two schools — Benton Academy and Central Holmes Christian — are not in an 11-man football district with natural geographical rivals.

“Geography was the driving force,” Drake said.

Although PCA’s new football district will be easier to navigate on the highway, it won’t be on the field. The other teams in District 5-A are perennial power Trinity, this year’s Class A runner-up Wilkinson County Christian, rival Tallulah Academy and Chamberlain-Hunt.

In 2013, Chamberlain-Hunt will be playing a full football schedule for the first time since 2002. It had dropped the sport for a decade before playing a limited schedule this season.

Patrick said the benefits of reduced travel far outweighed the challenge of playing tougher teams.

“You have to look at things logistically. We’re playing in a tough district, but there’s no need for us to travel four hours to Louisiana when there’s teams an hour away,” Patrick said. “From the schedule, you just play them. If we’re getting the program back to where it needs to be, you’ve got to beat those teams anyway.”

In basketball, baseball and all other sports, PCA will be in a district with Christ Covenant School in Ridgeland; Clinton Christian; Mt. Salus in Clinton; Rebul Academy; Tallulah Academy; and Veritas, which is located in Jackson.

PCA athletic director Bill Fleming said the reduced travel in those sports will help the school’s bottom line. Paying for gas, wear and tear on vehicles and other expenses can cost up to $300 for longer trips. Those expenses could be cut by as much as a third under the new alignment, Fleming said.

“It’s going to be cut down by at least 30 to 35 percent,” Fleming said. “We don’t know what our non-district schedule is going to be. If they send us across the state for those, it’s going to hurt. Overall, it’s going to help us.”

The new alignment will also help PCA bring in more money. A rule of thumb in high school sports is that longer road trips mean fewer fans in the visitor’s stands. With so many easy trips for everyone, Fleming said he expects larger crowds and more money flowing in from attendance next football season.

“When we played Ben’s Ford, there were maybe 15 people in the bleachers. When we played Tallulah in the preseason, the bleachers were packed. We were worried the wood was going to give out, there were so many people. We played Central Hinds a couple of years ago and it was the biggest gate I’ve ever seen,” Fleming said. “We’ve missed those gates. We made so much money, and other teams do too because we bring a good crowd.”