Community involvement, increased ticket sales and lower travel costs are among the reasons for a Beaufort County School District requirement that its schools play each other in all sports possible starting next school year.
The change is reflected in the county's football schedules, which have been finalized ahead of the May 1 deadline. Each of the county's public high schools will play each other.
"We want to, as much as possible, ensure that we are growing our fanbase," said Gregory McCord, the district's chief student services officer. "The best way to do that is make sure we're putting each other against one another as much as possible."
The county's athletics directors say the bigger gate will be a benefit, as well as ease scheduling.
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The directive means that the Class 4-A Bluffton High School football team will play both the county's Class 2-A schools -- Battery Creek High School and Whale Branch Early College High School. McCord said the numbers should balance out when the new high school opens in Bluffton.
Whale Branch and Bluffton have played the past two seasons. Battery Creek already had scheduled Hilton Head High and Beaufort High School, both of which will be Class 3-A schools next season, before the new directive.
Battery Creek dropped Savannah's Windsor Forest High School to open at Bluffton on Aug. 22. Battery Creek football coach Jim Shuman said he hoped to play a school more comparable in numbers but that the Dolphins looked forward to the challenge.
"We felt like with Hilton Head and Beaufort, we already had a loaded schedule -- as well as Ridgeland(-Hardeeville) non-conference," he said. "I was looking for something that would have been -- not so much easier, but a little more compatible with our team."
Hilton Head High and Beaufort High are the only county schools in the same region next year, with the Eagles dropping down to 8-AAA.
Outside of county games, the Seahawks' other non-region opponents are West Ashley and Ridgeland-Hardeeville. They play at rival Bluffton on Sept. 26.
Bluffton coach Ken Cribb and Hilton Head High coach B.J. Payne said they supported the initiative.
"There are so many family ties with each school," he said. "There's always that little extra."
Beaufort High athletics director Jerry Linn heard from unhappy fans when Beaufort High and Battery Creek postponed their football rivalry the past two seasons. The teams will meet again at Battery Creek on Sept. 19.
Linn said scheduling and transportation issues would be much easier with games within the county.
"I guess the dream is to have our own little region here in the lower Lower State," he said. "That would be nice."
Sports reporter Kendall Salter contributed to this story. Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.
2014 FOOTBALL SCHEDULES
Beaufort County public school football schedules for the 2014 season (home games in ALL CAPS)
Aug. 22 at Bluffton
Aug. 29 ESTILL
Sept. 5 Off
Sept. 12 at Hilton Head High
Sept. 19 BEAUFORT
Sept. 25 at Ridgeland-Hardeeville
Region games (dates unavailable): Academic Magnet, Bishop England, Garrett Academy Tech, North Charleston, Whale Branch
Aug. 29 at Colleton County
Sept. 5 at Bluffton
Sept. 12 WHALE BRANCH
Sept. 19 at Battery Creek
Sept. 26 at Manning
Oct. 3 BERKELEY*
Oct. 10 at Stall*
Oct. 17 HILTON HEAD HIGH*
Oct. 24 HANAHAN*
Oct. 31 at Orangeburg-Wilkinson*
Aug. 22 BATTERY CREEK
Aug. 29 at Effingham County (Ga.)
Sept. 5 BEAUFORT HIGH
Sept. 12 JOHNSON (Ga.)
Sept. 18 at Whale Branch
Sept. 26 HILTON HEAD HIGH
Oct. 3 at Wando
Oct. 17 at Ashley Ridge
Oct. 24 FORT DORCHESTER
Oct. 31 COLLETON COUNTY
Nov. 7 at Summerville
HILTON HEAD HIGH
Aug. 22 RIDGELAND-HARDEEVILLE
Aug. 29 WHALE BRANCH
Sept. 5 at West Ashley
Sept. 12 at Battery Creek
Sept. 26 at Bluffton
Oct. 3 at Hanahan
Oct. 10 BERKELEY
Oct. 17 at Beaufort High
Oct. 24 ORANGEBURG-WILKINSON
Oct. 31 STALL
Aug. 29 at Hilton Head High
Sept. 5 ST. JOHN'S
Sept. 12 at Beaufort High
Sept. 18 BLUFFTON
Sept. 26 at Windsor Forest
Oct. 3 BISHOP ENGLAND*
Region games (dates unavailable): Academic Magnet, Battery Creek, Bishop England, Garrett Academy Tech, North Charleston