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Football region finalized for 2023
Grant Swallows new mug.jpg
Grant Swallows

Bypassing the ‘Boro has been accomplished. Now, the Pioneer football team will try their luck in Region 4-6A for the next two seasons. 

Warren County successfully appealed last week to the TSSAA to join a new region starting with the 2023 campaign. Originally, the Pioneers were slated to return to a region predominately featuring Rutherford County schools, but after the TSSAA granted their appeal, the Pioneers will now face Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, Gallatin, Green Hill and Cookeville as region foes.

“Region 4-6A seems to offer the opportunity to compete against teams more similar to Warren County,” said Director of Schools Grant Swallows, who also serves on the Board of Control at the TSSAA but abstained from voting in the Pioneers’ appeal. “Our job is to provide opportunities for students. One thing we know is that in order for football teams to be successful then we need players to buy in and join our team. The conventional mindset is that we have a better chance of that happening by competing in Region 4.”

Part of the discussions that led the Pioneers to appeal last week were Swallows, WCHS athletic director Todd Willmore, WCHS principal Chris Hobbs and coach Matt Turner. Next fall, Turner will be the one who leads Squad 55 into battle and he feels like the schedule shift is a positive for his program.

“It is something different - both a change in direction and who we are competing against. All we have experienced, read about and heard is how dominant the ‘Boro region is. Stats don’t lie, I agree. However, maybe this change will help to recruit the “Jimmys and Joes” that we need to come out instead of asking them to come and play what everyone has labeled a death sentence against the Murfreesboro teams,” said Turner.

After the TSSAA made its announcement of the reconfigured region in early November, Warren County had to act quickly. Turner noted that only two options really were considered: accepting the move back to face Murfreesboro teams or request a new region in 6A. Dropping to a non-region schedule, as White County did four years ago when Swallows was the principal in Sparta, didn’t seem to be considered.

“Ultimately there were many conversations around the desire to remain with some of the opponents from the last two years. As with many decisions in our district, my conversations took place with our administrative team and they in turn talked with our coaches,” said Swallows. “We felt like traveling to Rutherford County wasn’t in the best interest of our student-athletes. Class 6A and Region 4 was the logical choice because of the common opponents and that was also influenced by volleyball. 

“Our volleyball team was the only team outside of Rutherford County in that (proposed) district. The volleyball district that mirrored the desired football region was the best option for that team so we chose to ask that both teams move to a district/region north of Warren County.”

Volleyball was also granted an appeal from playing in a region with five Murfreesboro schools to a schedule that includes Cookeville and White County – traditional rivals for the Lady Pioneers. More will follow about the volleyball program in subsequent additions of the Southern Standard.

Additional travel will be required of the Warren County teams due to the move, but the school is already working on taking steps to remedy any issues involved in getting buses for games. Willmore and Turner are proactively working on setting up travel plans to make sure any issues – like the Pioneers arriving to Mt. Juliet less than an hour before kickoff in this year’s matchup – won’t crop up in the future. 

Otherwise, everybody seems to be on the same page when it comes to moving forward with the program.

“I think my vision for football mirrors my vision for all of our school system. I serve in my role in order to create opportunities for student learning through experiences that teach critical thinking, hard work and commitment to excellence. That goes for the classroom, the football field or any place we encounter students,” said Swallows. “I am as competitive as anyone. I want to win in everything we do. But, my ultimate goal is that we provide great experiences and that students learn from those. It’s not all about winning but that winning will come when we commit to doing the right things. Our job is to provide those opportunities and teach our students how to be successful in them.”

Turner added, “My vision (for the future) remains the same as it has always been - to build and develop a competitive, holistic program for the entire school system that all students benefit from as well as building community cohesion. We have been consistently implementing a system at the high school and middle school level that we must incorporate into our youth. I feel that the next step is to start building and investing in a youth football program. We have some community meetings over the next few weeks to establish a game plan moving forward with youth football and cheer.”

More comments from Turner and Swallows about the region shift can be found on the Southern Standard website in the form of a Q&A with sports editor Jeffery Simmons.