Moving state title games right move for MHSAA

Oxford.002High school football, when it comes to deciding champions in all six classes, is about to get a shot in the arm.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) is on the verge of announcing a change of venues for the state championship games. Instead of playing in Jackson at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, the title contests will be played at Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi on a rotating basis.

Brandon Speck first reported the story in our sister publication, the Daily Journal. It’s welcome news for many, except those living in Jackson and individuals who have profited there from the championship games.

Mississippi State will host all six games this year. Ole Miss will get it in 2015. How long the rotation lasts has not been announced, but it’s hard to believe that it wouldn’t last at least four years.

Making the move has been talked about behind the scenes for a couple of years now. Anyone who has been to the stadium in Jackson knows it is far from ideal. Oxford and Lafayette fans that made the trip last December saw that the facility has seen better days, and the field, well, it’s been a problem in the past.

Starkville and Oxford are more conducive to hosting the title games for a myriad of reasons. Both Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and Davis Wade Stadium have undergone major improvements over the past few years, and both are far superior to hosting the most important games of the season.

The amount of people that can attend the games won’t be much different – Veterans Memorial has plenty of seats – but the surfaces at Ole Miss and Mississippi State are much more ideal.
Lafayette has played in Jackson four times the last five years, winning two Class 4A titles. Gary “Chick” Drewrey is the new athletics director at Lafayette, and he was for the move.

“It would be another fun weekend in Oxford,” Drewrey said when asked about his thoughts on the move to Ole Miss. “It’s a win-win for the MHSAA and both Oxford and Starkville. Both cities are better set-up to host the championship games. They are used to putting on these type of weekends during the year with the SEC and home games they play in both stadiums.”

Drewrey feels like the facility upgrades would garner more fans as well. Instead of driving to Jackson, he feels like fans of all the teams and those that live in and around Oxford and Starkville would travel and be more willing to spend the weekend. The economic impact of the title games coming to Oxford every other year could be as much as $3 million. That’s a significant increase, especially in early December.

Oxford football coach Johnny Hill, who is also the athletics director for the Oxford School District, felt like Mississippi State would do a great job of trying to get everything in order to make an impression on recruits who play in the games. Oxford played for the Class 5A state championship last season, and the Chargers have a returning team that many feel can return to that position this coming season.

“I think, vice versa, Ole Miss will do everything they can to outdo Mississippi State the very next year,” Hill said. “I think when you get those two schools competing against each other to have the best show in town, I think the players, the coaches and the association is going to benefit from all of this.”

Hill felt like fans would attend no matter where the games are played, but he did think that more local people in both communities would show up.

“The bottom line is, when you’re playing for a state championship, you’re playing for your teammates and your school and your town, and you want to represent them well,” Hill said. “I don’t know if it’s a personal thing. I think the kids will compete no matter where it is because of what’s at stake.”

Last year, the dressing room that the Chargers used was “great” according to Hill.

“I think the other dressing room wasn’t near as good,” he added. “I think their facility was fine where we were at, but I think the other side wasn’t nearly as nice of a facility. Now, both sides will have a good facility.”

In the end, the move to Ole Miss and Mississippi State equates to an even playing field for both teams. That includes the field, the dressing rooms and the experience for the fans. As Drewrey pointed out, the tailgating aspect will be better for the fans prior to a game.

Hill said the move might motivate the powers in Jackson to upgrade Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“They may get it ready to go to where it could go back to Jackson,” Hill said. (MHSAA director) Don (Hinton) is going to do what is best for everybody involved. I can grant you that. The facility isn’t as good in Jackson, and I think the move is at the right time.”

John Davis is the Oxford Citizen sports editor. He can be reached at john.davis@journalinc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @oxfordcitizenjd.

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About John Davis

Eighteen years in the business. Dedicated to providing the best local content for sports. Oxford, Lafayette, Ole Miss, youth sports, outdoors and the things nobody else wants to cover.