Longtime rivalries at stake in proposal to merge 3 high schools in Marion County

South Pittsburg vs. Whitwell - Oct. 2018 file photo by WTVC.png
In this October 2018 file photo, Whitwell and longtime rival South Pittsburg face off. (Image: WTVC)

In Marion County, high school rivals could become classmates.

The school board is proposing a merger that would put students from South Pittsburg, Marion County, and Whitwell high schools - all in the same building.

The sounds of of Friday night football aren’t far away, but a proposal from the Marion County school board could have two longtime rivals sharing a field in the future.

"It’s hard to imagine, but it might happen. You never know," says Marion County football player Jack Tillman.

Football players like Tillman want to remain on their own sidelines, and hope that discussions of merging with Whitwell and longtime rival South Pittsburg don't amount to anything.

"I don’t think it’d be the greatest, because it would ruin such a great rivalry," said Nick Elliot, a senior football player.

The combination of three county schools is being discussed because Jasper Middle School needs a new building.

One option is to replace the school facility. According to School Director Mark Griffith, renovations would also be made to South Pittsburg and Marion County High School.

The high school consolidation is also on the table, even though it’s more expensive. Griffith said South Pittsburg and Marion County High School would still be renovated, but would become middle schools.

"They need something different. It’s had a band-aid put on it for 30 years," said John Hewgley.

Hewgley, a South Pitt graduate and former All Conference football player, doesn’t agree with merging all three schools.

"I think the county is geographically too large for one mega high school," says Hewgley.

He feels football shouldn’t be the reason this debate is happening, saying academics in his county are lacking, and hopes others see the big picture.

"Sports was important," he said, "It taught me, it gave me confidence, but it wasn’t what made my life what it is today. It was the academic education."

School Director Mark Griffith tells us the board will be sending out surveys next week to gauge community opinion before they make a decision.

The school board will propose their recommendation to the county commission, who will get the final say.