August 21, 2009 9:25:00 AM
High school football programs are looking for ways to deal with the struggling economy.
So when teams can schedule non-conference games close to home that''s what they''re going to do.
That''s the main reason Immanuel Christian of Columbus will play host to Hatley High School, while Ackerman High School will travel to Starkville Academy.
Ackerman is only a 30-minute drive from Starkville, while Hatley is 45 minutes north of Columbus.
Immanuel football coach Shawn Gates, who replaced Billy Thomas, helped schedule the game against Hatley.
Thomas said Immanuel, a small Class A school in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, faces travel concerns for many of its games and has to travel at least an hour to an hour and a half to play. He said scheduling a game against Hatley helps the school limit money it spends on travel.
"We played Hatley in some summer league basketball games and we got to talking about possibly playing a football game against each other," Thomas said.
Thomas said the game was pretty easy to schedule after the MAIS opened the door for public and private schools to compete in all sports.
Gates doesn''t have much information on Hatley, but believes the game will be a good measuring stick for the Rams.
"It will tell a lot of things about our character and how tough we are," Gates said.
Gates knows Hatley went 1-9 last season, scored only 67 points, and was shut out six times last season.
When he sees the Tigers having between 25-30 players to his 14, Gates understands tonight''s challenge.
"They probably think this might be a good matchup for them," Gates said. "With them being a public school, they could have 25 good players compared to my eight or nine good players."
Regardless of tonight''s result, Gates feels games between public and private schools are a good thing and said it could be a developing trend.
For Starkville Academy and Ackerman, the matchup was a way to schedule a non-conference game that has a chance to draw a good crowd.
With the short distance between schools, Ackerman coach Adam Dillinger said fans should make the trip and support the teams.
"I think it''s a good opportunity," Dillinger said. "When you don''t have to travel so far, it should benefit both schools. Each year it will be a good gate. Football is like anything else, you''ve got to pay for it, so you have to make sure you schedule some big games."
Starkville Academy coach Brian Sims said playing non-conference teams such as Ackerman makes his team better.
"We don''t have room on our schedule for a whole lot of non-conference games," Sims said. "We have those we need to keep. I think this will be a good deal for both schools, and I don''t see any reason not to continue."
Sims and Dillinger spoke in the spring when the schools were scheduling games. Sims approached the administration and everyone agreed to schedule the game.
Dillinger said it just made sense to schedule a team like Starkville Academy. Other public schools in the area Ackerman''s size are already district opponents.
If the Indians were going to pick up a team from Starkville, it would be the Volunteers because Dillinger knows Starkville High School (Class 6A) is too large.
Dillinger is anxious to see how Ackerman matches up against Starkville Academy.
"They do things we don''t get to see," Dillinger said. "It''s a different style of football, not saying one is better than the other by any means, but we''ll have to prepare a little differently for them. They are a good team with good players and are well coached."
Sims said the Volunteers enter the game "a little blind" because it''s the season opener. He hasn''t had the opportunity to watch the Indians play, but the coaches traded film from last year.
Sims know Ackerman has players back from a squad that competed for a North State championship last year and was only one point away from beating Baldwyn to reach the state title game.
Depending on how the next two years play out, Dillinger is open to continuing the series against Starkville Academy.
He doesn''t know if other schools will follow its lead of public-private matchups, but if the situations are similar, it might create enough interest.
"It''s not going to be a bunch of them, but schools that will look at playing someone who is 30 minutes away would much rather play them rather than driving an hour or more to play somebody of the same size," Dillinger said.
Sims agrees and said it makes sense for a school to play a good public school opponent that is closer than another opponent that is two hours away.
"I can''t speak for anyone else, but I think it''s going to be a good thing for Starkville Academy," Sims said.
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