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Gas prices changing the way teams travel
Frankie Dorsey gets ready to fill up a Hall County school bus at the county's bus maintenance garage - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Doubleheaders might become the norm in high school athletics.

With fuel prices on the rise, area schools are putting forth an effort to limit travel, and according to athletic directors across the region, that means consolidating games.

"You look at playing JV and varsity on the same date at the same place," said Lakeview Academy athletic director Deuce Roark. "You have to maximize the dates and the amount of games played.

"The teams may have to leave a little early, but we need to try and limit having two or three buses going to one stop at different times."

As a private school, Lakeview Academy has not been forced to budget for gas or paying bus drivers, Roark said, but in Hall County, the fuel budget is rising, and so is the need to limit trips.

"We’re starting to combine teams," said West Hall athletic director Greg Williams. "You won’t see a bus with only 12 cheerleaders on it. Now, those cheerleaders will ride with teams, and more than one team may be on that bus."

The onus of limiting the amount of buses used for athletic events is in large part due to the cost to fuel the 60 and 100 gallon vehicles, that average 6-20 miles per gallon.

"In basketball, we put boys on one bus, girls on another, and cheerleaders on another," said Gainesville High athletic director Wayne Vickery. "This year, that probably won’t happen."

When the price of diesel fuel peaked at $4.27 a gallon in June, schools grew concerned, and the Hall County school system increased its fuel budget by $800,000. But even though fuel is now down to $3.50 a gallon, it still costs either $210 or $350 to fill a bus, depending on the tank size.

"Our increase in budget was to build some reserve for the rising gas prices," said Gordon Higgins, director of community relations and athletics for Hall County. "That budget includes daily transportation, as well as extracurricular activities.

"We do not budget for each school, we just have a system line item budget."

With no budget for specific schools, Higgins, as well as the athletic directors, have attempted to be proactive in regards to rising fuel costs.

"We haven’t been limited to a budget, and we want to give the kids the best opportunity we can to play and participate in what’s available," Roark said. "But you also have to be economically wise, in this time, of the fuel price."

Which means combining trips, scheduling games close to home, and in one case, having the team pay for travel.

"This summer we had to pass the cost of travel on to the teams," said Jackson County Comprehensive High’s athletic director Joe Lancaster. "We tried to be proactive and told the coaches that this is what we were up against. They understood, and their booster clubs had to pay for the travel."

The situation at Jackson County is unique, but even the larger schools in Georgia are dealing with the pressure of cutting travel costs.

"We haven’t gotten there (teams paying for travel) yet, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be there in the future" said Gary Long, athletic director at Mill Creek High in Hoschton, the state’s largest populated school. "We have to try and be sufficient so we don’t have to mandate."

Being sufficient could mean hindering the individual teams.

"Our girls basketball team wants to play a tournament in Birmingham (Ala.), but if they can find just as good of a tournament in Dunwoody, that would be more responsible," Long said.

That lack of travel to tournaments with high-caliber opponents, as well as a focus on scheduling nonregion games close to home, could factor into a team’s overall success.

"If you play an all region schedule you might save some money on gas," Vikery said. "But I don’t know how much it’ll do for making your team better."

While fuel prices have become a point of concern for Georgia, the state, and it’s high schools are not feeling the effects as much as some of their fellow Southeastern states.

According to a July report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the state of Mississippi cut high school sports schedules by 10 percent, and the state of Tennessee radically changed its league structure to limit cross-state travel.

In Georgia, that has not been the case."Our scheduling hasn’t been affected at all," Long said. "We’re still playing the maximum levels for all sports. We haven’t cut back anything, yet."

With the Fall sports season schedules already in place, there is little that schools can do now to change where they play. But that could change in the coming seasons.

"When you get into basketball and the spring sports, and volleyball too, there’s a lot of games, so you’re going to be travelling quite a bit," Roark said. "Luckily our region is pretty concise, but we’re definitely looking at trying to schedule closer to home."

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