With the summer break slowly but surely coming to a close, school is right around the corner and high school football players will return to the field in a matter of days to begin preparation for the new season.
What kind of chance will Metro Nashville Public Schools teams have to win a state title this year? If history is a guide, they’ve got a tough road ahead of them.
Since the 2000 season, despite seven championship appearances at either the 4A, 5A or 6A level, Davidson County schools have won the title only twice. Those appearances and titles all came under the 4A classification. No MNPS teams have made it to the 5A or 6A title game during that period, and the seven appearances come from only two schools: Hillsboro and Maplewood.
Hillsboro made five of the seven appearances and was the only one to take advantage of the trip to the title game, winning in 2003 and 2008.
Scott Blade was Hillsboro’s head coach from 2006 to 2008 and said that he doesn’t think there is any one thing that you can point to as to why a certain region of the state may be more consistent than another.
“I would say that we had a nice run from 2006-2008 with a good coaching staff, good kids and a lot of things went our way, and that is kind of what has to happen,” Blade said. “I think football between east, west and in the middle of the state is all comparable. There are good things going on in all parts of the state.”
It is, however, hard not to wonder why in the past 13 years, MNPS has sent only two schools to the title game.
Murphy Fair has been covering prep football in Tennessee since 1988, and publishes a magazine every year, Tennessee High School Football, that previews the each new season.
Fair said that although Hillsboro had a good run of appearances in the championship, he has noticed Davidson County’s drought of titles over the past 10 to 15 years.
“There are so many variables that can have an effect, so it is really hard to say the one reason why this may be the case as of late,” Fair said.
One of his possible explanations is a topic that arises every year: athletes leaving public schools for private ones.
Fair said that the larger cities in the state like Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville all experience this, but that Nashville may take a larger hit.
“If you look at Knoxville for example, they have three or four private schools, but it would take me a while to count all the private schools in or around Davidson County,” said Fair. “And I think some of those private schools are a little more blessed in terms of attracting talent to their athletic programs, which takes talent out of the public system, and a lot of those kids have a Nashville address.”
Jay Gore is a former Hillsboro coach during its run of consecutive title game appearances from 2001-2003. He is currently the head coach at McGavock.
“I have four feeder schools here at McGavock, and the best athletes that come out of those schools will at least have an opportunity to go to private school if they want to,” Gore said. “Some choose not to, but the best ones will be offered. And I don’t begrudge any of them. When I see them as eighth-graders and one of them tells me he is going to MBA, I say I am proud of him and hope he has a great career. Those are great schools, and I am not going to make a kid feel bad. Sure I’d like to have them here, but it is all part of it.”
Gore explained the situation further by saying that if he loses a four-year starter, it is actually like losing four players, not just one.
“So if I lose three kids, it is like losing 12,” Gore said. “If you take, for example, a standout kid from the basketball program, you take 20 percent of the team away, so you know it does make a difference. But I am sure not going to sit out here and bad-mouth, I am going to spend my time making this place better. The debate gets raised every year about this time and becomes a conflict that it doesn’t need to become.”
Fair said one of the reasons people move to private schools is more potential exposure to college programs.
“It is somehow ingrained in the minds of a lot of moms and dads of players, that their child is going to be seen by more major college coaches at an Ensworth or Brentwood Academy than he would be seen at a Glencliff or a Hillwood,” Fair said. “I don’t necessarily agree with that, but that is the myth, I guess you can call it.”
Blade, Fair and Gore all mentioned the consistency of coaching being vital to the consistency of a program.
Blade said his whole staff was pretty much with him during his successful stint at Hillsboro.
“As one who has moved around in the past years, it is hard to keep a staff together, but I think the ones who can stay together and are familiar with each other give themselves a great chance to do well,” said Blade.
Fair noticed a significant number of head coaching changes about five years ago and began keeping track of it each year. He said normally the number is in the upper 50s and 60s in the previous four years. According to his count this year, there have been 71.
He also mentioned that in a city with so many schools, like Nashville, it is harder to compete for support. He said if you attend a game at Glencliff, Hunters Lane or Hillwood, there probably won’t be 1,000 people there. But if you go to a game in a more rural area, the whole town is there. This leads, Fair said, to schools not only competing for attention but also resources.
“If you have a business in Nashville, you may be close to Hunters Lane, but you may have customers from all over the city, which makes it very difficult, I would think, for a business owner to determine where to spend contribution money,” Fair said. “Where if you are in Fairview, every business there supports Fairview High School, consequently giving the schools in smaller districts more to work with.”
There may not be one single reason Nashville schools haven’t been more competitive, but Blade said that doesn’t mean they won’t chase a title just as hard.
“We try to hold ourselves to our own standard, and when you are talking about what it takes to win a championship in Tennessee, you are going to be tested at some point by all parts of the state,” Blade said. “Right now it is Maryville and Whitehaven, and it will take an incredible effort to knock them off, but I think at the end of the day good football is good football, and you have to have good players and coaches and an administration that backs you. Those are the things you need to be successful.”