Column: Travel Takes with JMake
At about 10:45 a.m., a charter bus rolled out of the Sweet Potato Capital.
Small schools usually cannot afford charter buses for transportation, but this time, Vardaman had no choice. This four-hour ride ahead of them would be brutal.
Vardaman High School (which is 45 minutes from Oxford, an hour from Tupelo and two hours from Memphis) was placed into Region 3-1A for their next three football seasons. This region is located in 1A South and is matched up with the only other southern 1A region in the state, Region 4-1A. Vardaman, being the 4-seed, has to travel to the 1-seed of Region 4-1A to start the postseason. That team is none other than the reigning south half champion Lumberton Panthers.
The Town of Lumberton is located about an hour north of Biloxi, which, for those of you who are not familiar with geography, is nowhere near Vardaman. Lumberton, conversely, is 255 miles (or about four hours) south of Vardaman. That’s a long way.
Now, for those of you who are not acquainted with 1A schools, here’s a spoiler: they have no money. Finances are often tight for schools in small towns because of a small tax base, but they manage to make it work. Another spoiler: gasoline and diesel fuel are expensive. Small schools in Regions 3 and 4-1A that are plagued with traveling hundreds of miles to play a postseason game are almost forced to do individual fundraisers to pay for the trip. That’s not how it should be.
Class 1A should have more than four regions across the state. There are 35 MHSAA 1A schools in Mississippi, which is more than enough to make more regions that make geographical sense. Forcing schools close to Tupelo to travel to the coast and vice-versa for a playoff game is not only inconvenient but is just plain wrong.
Small schools cannot afford to travel long distances, and while longer travel is a part of postseason play, it should not be the case for schools the size of Vardaman and Lumberton. Kids, parents and fans want to witness their school participate in the playoffs, but many will not be able to as long as this system remains in place. Not only that, but small school football programs could face extinction if they are continually forced to shell out insane amounts of money for travel expenses.
Even worse, once travel expenses are covered, no school money remains for overnight accommodations. A hotel is out of the question. The Vardaman Rams (and other teams in the same situation) will be traveling about 8 hours round-trip in one day.
If you’re looking for a call to reform, this is it. Fix this, MHSAA. It can be easily done.
**Photo courtesy of Forest Shoemaker