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2008 brings changes for area football teams
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Riverside Military Academy athletics director Scot Sloan is most excited about creating a ‘Friday Night Lights’ atmosphere. Eagles football coach Chris Lancaster just hopes his home crowd isn’t dwarfed by the opposing fan base of traditional public schools.

The apprehension, good and bad, is all part of the anticipation of Riverside’s move this season from the Georgia Independent Schools Association back into the mainstream Georgia High Schools Association.

The Eagles announced the move in the spring of 2006 under former athletics director Doug Dixon, and are now a fully accredited part of Region 8-AA. Riverside Military is the second smallest school in Class AA with its 260 male cadets doubled for athletic classification purposes, since it’s an all-male school.

"I think it’s great we’re going to play in the GHSA," Riverside senior cadet and starting linebacker Diego Osegueda-Weiner said. "We’re going to have more rivalries, more people at the games and a more challenging schedule."

Riverside isn’t the only school making a big move with its football program this season.

Lakeview Academy is making the jump to a full varsity schedule in Region 8-A after spending last season playing a predominantly junior varsity schedule.

Jefferson is bouncing from Region 8-A to join Riverside Military in 8-AA. Jackson County is dropping from Region 8-AAAA to 8-AAA.

East Hall is shifting from Region 7A-AAA to 7B-AAA. West Forsyth is also moving into 7B-AAA in just its second season playing football, and Creekview is joining 7A-AAA.

Much like Riverside Military, the Lions are looking to create that exciting Friday night atmosphere.

Lakeview Academy had to make some adjustments to its soccer field to accommodate expected crowds for football with new bleachers for crowds as large as 600, a new press box and a new net for field goals.

The soccer field was also lengthened to meet football requirements, Lions coach Matthew Gruhn said. He said private contributions were essential to meeting the financial needs for the program.

"I think playing a full varsity schedule now gives our program a sense of urgency and excitement," Gruhn said.

The process for Riverside Military to move to GHSA was a two-year project. During that time, the Eagles athletic department had to register coaches, attend rules clinics and ensure eligibility for each athlete. Sloan came to Riverside in 2007 and described his involvement as "tying up the loose ends."

"It was definitely a juggling act getting everything done," Sloan said.

For Riverside, the benefit of playing in GHSA is two-fold: better competition and less travel time. In past seasons, the Eagles played most of their road games in either Macon or points further south. For example, to play at Deerfield-Windsor in Albany, the Eagles football team would be on the road at 9 a.m. Friday, stop for a meal and time to stretch in Macon, play the game at 7 p.m., be back on the bus around 10 p.m., and arrive back to Riverside’s campus around 4 a.m.

Not only would it wipe the players out for the rest of the weekend and serious impact any weekend furlough plans, but the travel expenses also put a pinch on the budget.

"It was a tough gig for us financially," Lancaster said. "And logistically it was a nightmare."

Now that’s a thing of the past. Riverside’s longest bus trip during the regular season for football is only 70 miles each way to Fannin County.

"We’re looking forward to being in the GHSA," Lancaster added. "We know Region 8-AA is a super region."

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