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Gridiron Association member wants group to push for more support from BoE

If Erin Cowan has her way, members of the Bryan County Board of Education will start hearing from the Richmond Hill High School Gridiron Association on a regular basis.

Cowan, a member of the Association and a parent, wants the football booster club to push for financial support from the BoE for better facilities, better equipment, more coaches and a full-time athletic director for RHHS.

She raised the issues Monday at the group’s meeting and pointed to success the school’s track and cross country boosters and coach Levi Sybert had in convincing the BoE to spring for $300,000 to refurbish the school’s track while also laying groundwork for a possible track and cross country complex that could allow Richmond Hill to host state, regional and national events.

The BoE approved the measure at last week’s meeting at Bryan County Middle School. Earlier this year, Sybert and boosters gave the BoE a plan for such a facility that would allow the school to host home meets and be available for community use for events such as the Special Olympics and AAU meets.

The lesson of last week’s victory by track supporters wasn’t lost on Cowan, who called herself “the mouth of Richmond Hill,” and said it was time to start talking about what the program needs to move forward.

“We have got to get together as a group and start pushing like the track and field booster club did,” she said, and other boosters agreed. That evidently led Gridiron Association President Eric Berisford to name her to lead a committee that will prioritize the program’s needs and then come up with a plan to lobby for change.

During the meeting, Cowan talked of RHHS’ possible move to Class AAAAAA – the Georgia High School Association gave RHHS a waiver in 2013 which allowed it to stay in Class AAAAA for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years due to its isolation from other AAAAAA schools, but apparently there’s concern RHHS won’t stay in AAAAA when the next reclassification begins next year.

If that happens, the Wildcats will find themselves competing in the state’s largest classification beginning in the fall of 2016 and Cowan said the school’s facilities just don’t stack up to those at schools like Bradwell Institute, Camden County, Ware County and even Liberty County, a Class AAAA school in Hinesville.

Among problems Cowan and other boosters want to see addressed are weight room facilities, the addition of a certified exercise coach to the staff and a priority put on fixing the bathrooms at Wildcat Stadium, which she said were apparently so bad “they clog up after 20 people use them.”

Other boosters agreed, and one said Wildcat Stadium bathrooms were called “the ghetto” by some parents from Liberty County.

Cowan also raised the issue of a pickup donated to Richmond Hill High School a few years ago for former-coach Lyman Guy to drive. Guy left the program to go to Toombs County for more money and a shorter commute – he’s from there – and apparently the pickup went to the school instead of remaining with the football program.

“That truck our principal is driving around, it was donated solely for Coach Guy to drive back and forth …. “ Cowan said. “The school does pay the insurance, but the truck was donated to the football program and our coaches aren’t in that truck anymore.”

Cowan suggested the school’s allowing the principal to use the pickup is emblematic of the way the Bryan County Board of Education and school administrators treat athletics.

The BoE has long been criticized for being tight-fisted when it comes to athletics, but in recent years it has opened up its purse strings where school sports are concerned. In the wake of Guy’s departure last year the BoE raised coaching supplements – additional money paid to coaches for the extra hours outside the classroom they put in -- and recently approved spending more than $500,000 on fixing athletic fields at RHHS.

The BoE also paid about $1 million last year for a new field house and weight room for Bryan County High School and Bryan County Middle School and in recent years has added lights to softball fields.

But the system’s rapid growth – particularly in South Bryan – has at times caused headaches as coaches try to oversee sports programs bursting at the seams with kids wanting to play. Guy frequently and privately lobbied for more coaches as the number of athletes coming out for football soared to over 100 students.

Cowan said her freshman son gave up on football this year after the school didn’t have a helmet for him – something first-year coach Josh Eads, who was at Monday’s meeting, said was due to a miscalculation when they were ordered.

No members of the school board or school administration were at Monday’s meeting, which was held at the school cafeteria.

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