In the final football rankings following the conclusion of the state high school playoffs, Bryan County was ranked fourth in Class A-D1 after state champion Prince Avenue Christian, Swainsboro and Brooks County.
The Redskins’ march to the Final Four of the playoffs marked their swansong competing in Class A-D1 for the next two years. The GHSA’s recent reclassifications placed Bryan County in Class A-DII and school officials and coaches couldn’t be happier.
While the Redskins were reclassified, nothing changes for Richmond Hill other than being in Class 6A which is now the highest classification for schools following the elimination of Class 7A.
The Wildcats remain in the same region with Camden County, Lowndes County, Valdosta and Colquitt County. A new addition will be Tift County. Effingham County was originally placed in the region but the Rebels successfully appealed to be placed in 5A.
Prior to the new classifications being announced, Bryan County officials were concerned they would possibly be bumped up to Class 2A or even possibly 3A.
However, once the dust settled everyone breathed a sigh of relief and were more than happy to find themselves at the DII level.
“Going into Division II is going to keep us where we belong,” football coach Cherard Freeman said. “It gives us an opportunity to compete with schools our size."
“I think it’ll continue to get more kids out where we’ll have a chance to win,” Freeman said. “It’s not going to be where we’ll be somebody’s Homecoming opponent on Friday night."
“My first year here (2020) we were everybody’s Homecoming game. These kids have worked hard for four years to put this program in a position where it can compete and I believe we’ll be in a classification and region where we can continue to do so.”
The teams in the Redskins’ new 3A-DII region will include Metter, Claxton, Emanuel County Institute, Jenkins County, McIntosh County Academy, Portal and Savannah High. Also in the region are three Savannah schools who field a limited number of athletic teams: Savannah Classical Academy, Savannah Early College and STEAM Academy.
Metter, Claxton and Savannah High were also in Region 3-DI but were reclassified to DII.
The last two years have seen Bryan County’s sports teams—previously competing against much larger schools in Class 2A--have their most successful seasons in several years. Football and volleyball, for example, won region championships this fall, which in turn has led to increased participation.
“Since joining Region 3A we have seen a drastic change for our athletic student body,” said athletic director Blaine Ennis who is also a former Bryan County athlete and the mother of multi-sport athletes Tanner and Cooper Ennis. “We currently have 46 percent of our student body competing in GHSA sanctioned programs."
“The school culture and climate has improved,” Ennis said. “We have a more level playing field for our student-athletes with teams competing for state playoff spots. With the new reclassification the opportunity to compete and the competitive balance of schools will continue to help our athletes and athletic programs thrive.”
Girls basketball coach Mario Mincey, the longest tenured head coach (17 seasons) among the two county high schools, welcomed the reclassification because it means the resumption of rivalries with schools such as ECI, McIntosh and Jenkins County with whom the Redskins were once region mates.
“To me this just goes back to our old region days before we went to 2A,” Mincey said. “It’s just our old region without Benedictine, St. Vincent’s and Vidalia."
“I think it’s a good fit overall for our whole athletic program, for everybody at the school,” Mincey said. “You look at the numbers and I think it’s a win-win for the school. We’re playing schools who are comparable and these will be local rivalry games for the kids.”
Boys basketball coach and assistant athletic director Brent Anderson, who has been at Bryan County for seven years, echoed Mincey in terms of either continuing current rivalries or renewing old ones. He also cited shorter trips when it came to travel.
“We have created some great rivalries in football and basketball,” Anderson said. “Metter and Claxton, for example, are big-time games. Portal will be in the new region and that’s a really good rivalry.
“The travel helps, too, as they’re short trips and our fans can make the games,” Anderson said. “I don’t think because we’re the biggest school we’re going to be the powerhouse of the region. I think it’s pretty even across the board.
“We now have teams that have won or competed for region championships which hasn’t been going on. That means a lot of people here have made a commitment from the administration down. This reclassification helps us continue to be competitive.”