Game changer

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, July 22, 2014

JACKSON – The Mississippi High School Activities Association announced several changes to its postseason venues, including moving the football championships from Jackson to the campus stadiums at Mississippi State and Mississippi.

MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said Monday that the football championships will be played at Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium in 2014 and 2016 and at Ole Miss’ Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2015 and 2017.

The football championships have been played at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson since 1992.

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Hinton said the biggest reason for the switch is the move gives the MHSAA a chance to host its games at Southeastern Conference-quality stadiums.

“It’s about giving the experience for our student-athletes to be able to play in those facilities,” Hinton said.

Hinton said the six championship games combined to draw about 25,000 fans in 2012 before a steep decline in 2013, which was largely attributed to unseasonably cold weather.

He hopes the six games can draw at least 30,000 at the campus sites.

The University of Southern Mississippi will host the Mississippi/Alabama Football Classic in 2015 and 2017. It will be the first time in the event’s 27-year history that the game will be played in Mississippi.

The game will be played at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2014 and 2016.

“We really feel like it’s a great opportunity for the University of Southern Mississippi to showcase their facilities and bring these terrific athletes every other year to their facility,” Hinton said.

Southern Miss athletic director Bill McGillis was pleased with Monday’s announcement, but held out hope that USM might be added to the state championship rotation in the future.

“We are extremely excited about today’s announcement,” McGillis said. “Given that this will be the first time this game has ever been played in Mississippi, it’s obviously a historic moment for the university, city, region and state.

“We are also very much looking forward to the opportunity to bring the MHSAA state football championships to M.M. Roberts Stadium and South Mississippi in 2018 and periodic years thereafter.”

Still, the opportunity for talented players from two states to come to the Southern Miss campus for the all-star game and spend several days left Golden Eagle head coach Todd Monken very pleased.

“This game will allow young men from two different states, and their families, a chance to see the Southern Miss campus and get a feel for our facilities as well as the great city of Hattiesburg,” Monken said in a statement to, the school’s athletic website.

The annual game between teams from the two neighboring states was begun in 1988 and was played at Mobile, Ala., for many years before moving to Montogmery, where it has been played since 2011.

“This has been a long process, something that has been in the works for more than 10 years to bring the game to Mississippi,” said Johnny Mims, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Coaches.

“There are a lot of coaches in Mississippi who are smiling today.”

Hinton also said that the state’s basketball tournament for both boys and girls will be expanded to include the quarterfinals, which bumps the total number of games from 36 to 84.

Most games will be played at the Mississippi Coliseum, but the boys’ quarterfinals will be hosted by Jackson State.

This means the old North State/South State format is being scrapped in order to expand the state tournament.

“We’ve always had site selection issues with the North and South State tournaments,” Hinton said. “We’ve always had travel and expense issues, like when the host team loses on the first night, there are two teams that may have traveled a long distance playing in front of a sparse crowd.”

All games in the two preliminary rounds will played at the site of the higher-seeded teams leading into the state tournament.

The MHSAA also announced that the state championship games for both football and basketball will continue to be televised.