High School Sports

State football title attendance at Clemson way down this season

COLUMBIA -- Attendance was down as much as 10,000 from past years. And, boy, what a long trip that was for Myrtle Beach and Dillon.

Still, South Carolina High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton said Wednesday that Clemson "went above and beyond in their accommodations" in hosting the Weekend of Champions and the school would be welcomed to hold the championship games in the future if they wished.

"Being that we've experienced what they've presented, I would not be opposed ... I do not see any disadvantages of it being at Clemson," Singleton said.

Since 1997, the SCHSL had held its championship games at South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium. Along with being the site of the state's signature university and the state capital, the location was also about as central as you could get in South Carolina.

Two years ago, though, state lawmakers adopted a resolution requesting the SCHSL schedule its championship football games at venues other than Williams-Brice. So in April, the league's executive committee picked Death Valley to hold four title games -- two in Class AAAA, and one each in Class AAA and Class AA.

Preliminary attendance figures are down between 8,000 and 10,000 from previous weekends at Williams-Brice Stadium. Singleton says part of that is luck of the draw.

The Class AAAA Division II championship game Friday night was between Northwestern and South Pointe, two Rock Hill high schools who draw from the same community and thus, limiting attendance. Had Class 4A Division I power Byrnes faced a rival such as Gaffney in the finals instead of Sumter, it might have attracted thousands more, Singleton said.

The Class AAA game featured Myrtle Beach, which may be the furthest high school in distance from Clemson, Singleton said. Dillon, the Class AA champion, had a similar long-distance drive -- about 240 miles each way -- from near South Carolina's Pee Dee region to the Upstate campus.

Singleton acknowledged travel could have been a significant drain on attendance.

"I would venture to say given the economy, attendance for the entire playoffs was probably down," he said.

Myrtle Beach took two buses of players and coaches and a third for cheerleaders and support staff, Terry said. Two more buses of fans made the 550-mile round trip. The visit was worth it -- Myrtle Beach won its first state championship, 31-21, over Chester.

Myrtle Beach athletic director Doug Terry says the SCHSL and Clemson did everything they could to make the visit memorable. "I've got no complaints whatsoever there," he said.

His one suggestion? Let a school that traveled a far distance play the earliest possible game Saturday. Terry says the Myrtle Beach contingent arrived back home close to 4 a.m. Sunday.

Clemson enjoyed the opportunity to showcase its stadium, its campus and the Upstate, said Van Hildebrand, the Clemson's associate athletic director in charge of event management. He said the school would submit a proposal for the 2009 games.

Singleton says he's had interest from several schools, such as Coastal Carolina, The Citadel and Benedict, to hold state championship games. He hopes to have requests in hand by February and an agreement in place by March for 2009.

More changes could occur, among them a proposal by some Class A schools to have their two title games, played for the past three years at South Carolina State the weekend before the other games, rejoin the already packed lineup. That could mean splitting the weekend's games among several venues as is the case in North Carolina, Singleton said.

"If a scenario like that becomes the case, some hard decisions will have to be made," he said.