The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Haywood County football fans after news broke on Monday night that Pisgah had changed venues for the county’s highly anticipated clash on October 14 – which marks the 100th anniversary of the football rivalry with Tuscola.
Instead of being played at CE Weatherby Stadium, which can seat the expected 15,000 fans, Pisgah moved the rivalry game to the Bethel Middle School field, which has no stadium and can only seat a few thousand fans. spectators, at best.
Pisgah officials announced the decision on Monday – less than two weeks before the big game. The last-minute move left many unknowns for a game of this magnitude, one billed as the greatest game in Haywood County football history due to the 100th anniversary year.
But all those questions are now moot, as the big game is back at CE Weatherby Stadium.
A statement sent at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday by officials at Pisgah High School said:
“After working with Emergency Management Services, the Pisgah vs. Tuscola game will be played at CE Weatherby Stadium due to safety concerns for the surrounding community. The Pisgah Nation will continue to persevere, and as always, we will continue to stand up for our students. Go bears!”
If the decision had stayed in place and Pisgah and Tuscola had traveled to play Bethel Middle, there would have been a long list of issues to resolve.
The field that never wasThis year it was Pisgah’s turn to host the county clash against Tuscola. Pisgah is now in its second season without a home pitch. Flooding hit Pisgah Memorial Stadium in 2021 and repairs are yet to be completed, forcing Pisgah to play its “home games” on borrowed pitches.
Pisgah and Tuscola agreed in June that Pisgah would “host” this year’s big game on a rotational basis, but would do so at Tuscola’s home ground.
Speaking following the change of venue, Pisgah principal Clint Conner explained Pisgah’s change of heart at the 11th hour.
“The reason for that is to try to do what’s best for our kids and our community,” Conner said. “I went over there and asked the kids and they said we wanted to play Bethel. In the end, they are the ones who play.
However, thousands of football fans, including the players’ friends and family, were reportedly kicked out of the game.
“In terms of stadium capacity, it won’t be the same. We’ll do our best,” Conner said.
CE Weatherby Stadium regularly attracts over 12,000 fans to the rivalry game each year, but Bethel Middle, by all accounts, will only host a fraction of that amount. Bethel Middle’s exact capacity is unclear, as Pisgah had not yet consulted with the county fire marshal.
If a large number of fans weren’t able to attend, their only choice was to listen live on WPTL or read the post-match coverage in mountaineer, since the match is not televised.
Bethel Middle, however, does not have the setup to broadcast live on radio and there is no press box to watch the plays. When asked where the media and team stats keepers will be watching the game from, Conner replied, “They’ll be somewhere.”
The decision would also have had significant financial repercussions for Pisgah Athletics, which stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars in tickets, concessions and raffle tickets. Parking was also an issue as capacity is limited in Bethel Middle.
“We discussed some shuttle options and using lots of local land,” Conner said Monday after the venue change was initially announced.
Concession stands, which represent a large budget for host schools, also needed to be determined. Conner said Pisgah planned to bring concession displays to Tuscola anyway, but it’s unclear how many might have fit in Bethel Middle.
Ticket sales were another unknown. Tickets have been on sale online at GoFan.com since the summer. Conner said he doesn’t know the exact number of tickets sold so far, but plans to close online ticket sales until Bethel Middle School’s field capacity is known, in order to ensure the game was not oversold. It is now irrelevant.
The decision to switch venues – although ultimately overturned – was actually a rushed negotiation process between the two schools just two weeks before the teams took to the field.
As the big game approached, Pisgah officials began to question playing their home game at the Tuscola ground. According to the rotation, it was Tuscola’s turn to host the County clash in 2021, Pisgah’s in 2022 and Tuscola’s turn again in 2023.
Even if Tuscola handed over the keys to the stadium to Pisgah to host this year’s game as his own, it would still be played on a pitch emblazoned with the Tuscola logo.
“They should play Tuscola three years in a row,” Conner said.
Being without a pitch for two seasons was bad enough, he said.
“From our point of view, our children have been moved for 20 games. Trying to make a Pisgah home game in Tuscola is not a common sense decision,” Conner said.
So last Thursday, September 29, just 15 days before a game that usually takes months to plan and prepare, Pisgah officials made a different offer to Tuscola.
“There was a phone call to our athletic director from a Pisgah official letting us know they had a proposal and were on their way to Tuscola,” Tuscola manager Heather Blackmon said.
Blackmon was sick, but Conner said he would put her on speakerphone when they met with Tuscola athletic director Laura Turner in Tuscola.
“They never put me on speakerphone,” Blackmon said. But once they left campus, Turner called Blackmon to fill her in.
Pisgah wanted Tuscola to resume the October 14 game as their own home game, and then Pisgah would host the next two years of rivalry games in 2023 and 2024.
Blackmon said the proposal caught her off guard, especially after she and her team met with Conner and his team on September 14 to discuss the logistics of the rivalry game.
“We had no indication that there was any concern,” Blackmon said.
While she isn’t sure why the proposal was made at the last minute, Blackmon said she believes Pisgah officials are concerned about their sophomores playing the rivalry game at Weatherby. for three consecutive years.
Conner said he thought it was a fair offer.
“We asked Tuscola if they would be willing to accept this game and use the gate and then allow us to come back next year and take the gate,” he said, citing ticket revenue.
Blackmon took a night to brainstorm the proposal with his staff.
A logistical problem
Tuscola decided it was logistically impossible to face a game of this magnitude as a home game on such short notice. It takes nearly 100 staff and volunteers to operate the gates, manage the concessions, sell merchandise, sell raffle tickets, and more.
“It takes a month to six weeks to prepare for the number of people attending the game, to set up payment for security and EMS, to get staff ticket takers and to get staff for the stands of dealership,” Blackmon said. “I don’t know how we could have done that.”
The team hosting the County clash brings over six figures, which funds the school’s athletic department for the next two years. But Tuscola hadn’t promoted the game or sold tickets for it since it was technically Pisgah’s home game – and rushing to do so at the last minute was not possible, said she declared.
To complicate matters, the game falls during the autumn holidays and many staff members had already planned to leave for a long weekend, Blackmon said.
Turner was AD last year when Tuscola hosted the rivalry game and said it was no small feat.
“We planned from day one of school to start the Pisgah game,” she said. “You have to inform the teachers because they work at the counters. They know not to schedule anything that night.
She said that some of the festivities, like the pre-game shows, are scheduled a year in advance and she is already making phone calls for the pre-game festivities for the rivalry match. next year.
“Doing it right takes time,” she said.
Blackmon also consulted recall club Big T, who said it would be next to impossible to arrange a home game two weeks in advance.
Dead end scenario
Tuscola’s answer to Pisgah’s offer was no.
“It won’t be fair to any of our children no matter what. Inevitably, a bunch of kids are going to have to give up a year of home games at home,” Blackmon said.
Blackmon said she made a counter offer to split ticket proceeds this year and next, but was keeping the host team rotation as is.
“I offered to give Pisgah half the gate this year at Tuscola if it was still a Pisgah home game, and we would have the home game next year and give them half the gate,” he said. said Blackmon. “We offered to help in any way we could, other than taking responsibility for the logistics given that it was two weeks.”
Pisgah rejected the offer.
Blackmon added that Tuscola gave Pisgah the use of his stadium several times during the season.
“We’ve been more than happy to open our field for whatever they need,” she said.
But, ultimately, changing the hosting order of games in future years was something Blackmon was unwilling to do.
“I wasn’t willing to change the schedule in the future,” she said. “Our people understood when their kids were going to have a Pisgah home game and a Tuscola home game.”
But she understands where Pisgah is coming from.
“I recognize and feel complete empathy with the Pisgah community and the children. There is no way to fix this that would not punish multiple children on both sides. It is a no-win scenario,” Blackmon added .
Before the decision was overturned, Blackmon said worried fans had already asked to play Bethel Middle.
“Our community has expressed multiple concerns regarding player safety, as well as spectator safety, based on the capacity Bethel Middle can hold,” she said.
A final option was to move the game entirely out of the county to a high school that does not host a game on October 14. Pisgah recently staged his return to Erwin High School in Asheville.
“We discussed some of those scenarios,” Conner said, but didn’t elaborate on why those options weren’t chosen.
When Pisgah announced the decision to move the sites Monday night, the school had not yet consulted with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office about safety or the NC Highway Patrol about traffic control.
These meetings took place on Tuesday morning and, for security reasons, the decision was made to return to Weatherby Stadium for the county clash on Friday 14 October.
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