You’ve got to hand it to the Richmond Hill Lady Wildcats. Not only did they earn a trip to the girls Class AAA state basketball tournament, but they did it the hard way.
And I’m not talking about rebounding from a tough start, though they did that, too.
I’m referring instead to the roughly 1,100 miles and 28 hours the team spent on a school bus last week, winding their way from Richmond Hill to Cross Creek High School near Augusta and back again. If you know anything about getting from here to anywhere in that part of the state, you know there’s no easy way to get there or here again.
But unfortunately, it’s what the five schools from Region 3AAA South -- also known as the south subregion -- have faced since 3AAA was formed out of a handful of Savannah-area schools and a bigger helping of Augusta-area schools, most the latter making up Region 3AAA North.
The south subregion has Richmond Hill, Liberty County, South Effingham, Benedictine and St. Vincent’s, with Burke County and Hepzibah thrown in for good measure. Truth is both those schools are far closer to Augusta than they are to South Effingham, the northernmost school in the Savannah-area.
Burke County is about 50 miles from Augusta. But it was considered by some in the region as close as you can get to a halfway point and was tabbed as the site for the region basketball tournament the last time the south subregion got to host the thing.
This year, the north subregion played host. And picked Cross Creek -- an even longer ride for teams from in and around Savannah -- to be the site of the tournament.
If you need to know where Cross Creek is, ask the Lady Wildcats.
"We can definitely tell you how to get there," coach Wade Wright said, not long after his team was dispatched by powerful Hepzibah in the region semifinals.
A day later, the road weary Lady Wildcats fell again -- ensuring another long road trip for the Lady Wildcats, this time to face Kendrick in Columbus on Friday in the first round of the state tournament.
That’s to be expected in the state playoffs, when hundreds of school buses filled with prep basketball players cross the state from one corner to the other, seeking a state title. Unless you finish the region tournament in one of the top two spots, you're hitting the road.
But it shouldn't be expected -- and indeed seems an unlevel playing field -- when some teams are expected to travel long distances just to compete in the region tournament.
That's especially true if one group of schools seems to be continually getting the short end of the stick and the long road to travel.
And that's what seems to be happening in Region 3AAA, where it might almost be fairer to ditch the tournament format and figure something else out -- like letting higher seeded teams host the early rounds, then finding a true halfway point at which to hold the semifinals.
In the meantime, the Lady Wildcats have shown they can overcome distance and hours spent riding through the night on a school bus.
The thing is, they shouldn't have had to.