Knoxville Catholic to play in DII in 2019-2020 school year

, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee  Published 3:14 p.m. CT Jan. 11, 2018 | Updated 3:53 p.m. CT Jan. 11, 2018

Knoxville Catholic and Grace Christian Academy in Franklin are both headed to Division II. The TSSAA’s Board of Control unanimously approved both private schools’ requests to go to Division II starting in the 2019-20 school year. GCA, which is in its third year as a TSSAA member, was denied its request to go to DII in 2018-19 in all sports but football where it would fulfill the second of two-year contracts as a Division I member. “It would have been unprecedented, too, by the TSSAA,” said Catholic athletic director Jason Surlas of the possibility of Catholic football remaining one more year in DI to fulfill game contracts while other sports went to Division II. No football player would be allowed need-based aid had that occurred.

TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress confirmed that has never been allowed and that a school must declare if it will be in Division I or in Division II. “We knew this was how it was going to probably end up,” GCA principal Robbie Mason said. “Ultimately, it is a good decision for us.” Catholic principal Dickie Sompayrac acknowledged the program hasn’t been embraced by other public school programs competing against the Irish. “We knew when we stayed in Division I it would not be a popular thing,” he said.

GCA asked to move to Division II now after several schools in their district have told coaches they won’t play them. AD Len McKnatt said he’s received information that all members of District 10-A girls soccer except Columbia Academy have told the school they will not play GCA next season. That league includes public schools Culleoka, East Hickman, Hickman County and Richland. “You could use the word frustrating; I would say disappointed,” Mason said. “We want to give our kids an equal opportunity to compete. At the end of the day, that’s what we wanted.” Childress said the Board of Control could make the teams compete against GCA, but it’s been a “longstanding agreement not to require anyone to play teams in the district in the regular season. They can play whoever they want except in football.”

 Football is different in that only the top four teams in each region qualify for the postseason. All teams qualify for the postseason in other sports. Columbia Academy athletic director Pernell Knox told The Tennessean on Thursday that his school may be close to asking to go to Division II starting in 2019-2020. Teams in the Bulldogs’ basketball district — 10-A — are not playing them this season. That has carried over to other sports, Knox said.  “They have to play us in the tournament,” Knox said. “We’re just going to go into the district tournament and hoping things go out and look at probably going Division II the following year.”
Catholic dominant in the athletic arena

Catholic, though, is the headliner in regard to those moving to Division II in 2019. During the 2017 calendar year, the Irish won state team titles in football (Class 5A), girls tennis (A/AA) and boys track and field (A/AA) and were runner-up in boys basketball (AA) volleyball (AA) and boys cross country (Large Class). “I think we are making a lot of people happy,” Sompayrac said. “The fact that we do feel like this is eminent. “We don’t want to be somewhere where we aren’t wanted. We’ve heard that loud and clear. It is what it is.”

Reach Tom Kreager at or 615-259-8089 and on Twitter @Kreager.

Published by The Tennessean