The Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District made a successful appeal to the Mississippi High School Activities Association last week.
Because of the consolidation between the Winona Separate School District and the Montgomery County School District on July 1, Winona would have had to played an independent schedule in the upcoming year and not be eligible for the playoffs in football. Winona is coming off one its most successful seasons in football after losing to Taylorsville in the Class 2A championship game.
The MHSAA Executive Committee voted 8-6 to amend the rule and allow Winona to move up in classifications for the upcoming school year.
In the last reclassification count in October of 2016, Winona reported 274 total students in grades 9-12 while Montgomery County reported 72 students. The total of 346 students would make Winona a Class 3A school.
But there will not be any celebrating in Winona. The MHSAA announced on Tuesday that Winona will be moved to Division 5-3A in all sports with Forest, Kemper County, Choctaw Central, Morton and Southeast Lauderdale and all of those division games will be played on the road.
“I don’t really like it but nobody asked me,” Winona coach Joey Tompkins said. “So right now, we only have two home games for certain and possibly a third game with Calhoun City. Right now, our last home game would be Aug. 31 against Nanih Waiya, which means that might have to be our Senior Night and homecoming.”
Tompkins said the loss of home games is a huge financial hit for Winona. Last year, the Tigers had five regular-season home games and three home playoff games and averaged around $6,000 per game.
With the shuffling of schedules, Tompkins said he is also losing a home game with J.Z. George and a road game with Kosciusko. Tompkins said he is keeping his opening three games with Strayhorn, Choctaw County and Nanih Waiya.
“Right now we have two open dates,” Tompkins said. “We are losing the J.Z. George game which is huge for us. They are 10 miles down the road and that’s always a good crowd for us. And I hate to lose the Kosciusko game. I feel like we owe them that game but there is nothing I can do about it.”
Tompkins said he has made contact with four of the five division schools, hoping one might consider moving the game to Winona for financial considerations. He said he hopes to have his schedule finished by the end of the week.
“I’ve talked to everybody but Choctaw Central,” Tompkins said. “I didn’t talk with the Kemper County coach but the principal said she would think about it. When you lose that many games, you are crippling an athletic program for at least two years. Last year, we made money in football and track. Everybody else breaks even or loses money and that’s the way it is with most schools. There is just nothing fair about it.”
MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton said with the pressure being placed on school districts to consolidate, the rule had to be reviewed.
“With future challenges placed on school districts by the state legislature concerning school consolidation, this change in policy will enable out schools and our students to fully participate in the MHSAA experience,” Hinton said in a statement on Friday. “This vote demonstrates the MHSAA’s mission to consider fair competition among all schools while keeping in mind opportunities for students to be able to participate in the playoffs. Now, students who participate in the sport of football will have the same opportunity to participate in the playoffs as other sports.”
Winona participated in Division 2-2A with Eupora, East Webster, Leflore County and Calhoun City.
“The change in schedules at this time of year creates a challenge, not only for [Winona High School,] but for the schools whose schedules may change as well,” Hinton said. “The MHSAA office will work to facilitate these changes and make the transition go as smoothly as possible.”
Eupora coach Stephen Edwards said Winona leaving the division will force him and other teams to find a replacement game.
“Because we had five teams in the region, we already had a bye week during division play,” Edwards said. “This will force us to have two open dates now. So I’ll start looking for somebody to fill that date. It’s going to be a scramble for games, that’s for sure.”