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Fans pack gym for public vs. private

Here we are in John R. Gray Gymnasium. It’s the championshipfinals of the 2007 Holiday Classic. Basketball fans are jammed inevery corner of Brookhaven Academy’s gymnasium for this title test.It’s standing-room-only along the baselines. People are packed3-deep and there’s a long line of fans outside the gym. The firemarshal wisely shuts down ticket sales.

The Lady Cougars are taking on the West Lincoln Lady Bears in ashowdown of local basketball powers. Coach Barry Gray’s LadyCougars are undefeated (17-0) and Coach Lane Young’s Lady Bears are13-1.

Wow!

Unfortunately, this classic confrontation won’t take place.

Last week the Mississippi Private School Association announcedthat it would resume playing public or Mississippi High SchoolActivities Association schools in athletics. The much anticipatedreturn of private versus public schools had arrived.

Apparently, the sports scribes and fans were more excited aboutthe projected matchups than the school administrators. Ho-hum.

According to Brookhaven Academy headmaster Dr. Miller Hammill,the school is taking a cautious approach to the scheduling ofpublic schools. In fact, most board members are against it.

They prefer maintaining the MPSA mystique.

By contrast, Jackson Prep football coach Ricky Black isscheduling two public schools, Pearl and Newton County, for the2007 season. Jackson area Class AAA private schools like Prep,Jackson Academy, Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Hillcrest ChristianSchool benefit the most from the new format.

When you consider the high cost of gasoline, schedulingopponents closer to home definitely provides financial benefits.The fans also save gas money.

Brookhaven Academy coaches have expressed a sincere interest inplaying public schools but every game must be approved by theboard. According to BA football coach Bo Milton, his 2007 scheduleis virtually complete.

At Copiah Academy in Gallman, athletic director and high schoolprincipal Mitch Mitchell is fresh from coaching the Colonels to aClass AA state football championship. More or less, the Colonelshave their gridiron schedule finalized.

Mitchell, who also coaches the girls and boys basketball teamsthis season, said he would explore the idea of playing LincolnCounty basketball teams. It definitely would reduce travelexpenses.

Of course, all athletic decisions hinge on approval by theCopiah board.

Charlie Newlon, longtime head football coach and AD at McCombParklane Academy, said he didn’t have a problem scheduling footballgames within the MPSA. Perhaps there could be a vacancy on thejunior high menu for a public school, if the situation wasright.

Parklane doesn’t want to play Brookhaven Academy in basketball.But that’s another issue to debate.

Enrollment figures would place Brookhaven Academy and CopiahAcademy in Class 1A in the MHSAA. Competition from 1A schools inthis area would come from West Lincoln, Bogue Chitto and Salem.Class 2A schools like Loyd Star, Enterprise and Wesson wouldprovide worthy opponents, too.

For the unknowing reader, area schools, public and private, playeach other during the summer months in baseball and basketballleagues. The players are on a first-name basis. That’s also knownas friendly competition.

On the economic side, Adams County Christian School and NatchezTrinity Episcopal would benefit from playing public schools closerto home. Most of their MPSA road games are a minimum of 60 milesaway, and that’s one way.

Ackerman athletic director and football coach Adam Dillinger wasdelighted with the option of playing private schools. In fact,Dillinger plans to open the 2007 campaign against Winston Academy,just a few miles down the road at Louisville.

“We have been separated for way too long,” said Dillinger. “It’sabout time that we were able to compete against each other.”

MRA athletic director Richard Duease said he plans to schedulegames against Jackson metropolitan area MHSAA members and reducetravel expenses. “We think it will be a wonderfulrelationship.”

For sure, Duease has a wonderful attitude. Hopefully, it’scontagious.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com