HCHS track program fits best in mountain region


John Henson

Harlan County track and cross country coach Ryan Vitatoe talked with his team during a cross country meet in the fall.

Harlan County will be the site of two regional track meets over the next two weeks. Teams from Region 7 (mountain region) made the trip to HCHS on Tuesday, while teams from Region 5 (central and south central Kentucky) will be here next week.
School officials from HCHS asked to be placed in Region 7 last summer, but the Kentucky High School Athletic Association rejected the request during a meeting and kept Harlan County in Region 5. The main logic was the fact that 13th Region basketball/baseball schools such as Bell County, Clay County, Corbin and Knox Central were in Region 5.
HCHS officials pointed out that Region 5 would have 15 teams if Harlan County is included, while Region 7 has only 10, with only nine of those expected to field teams in this year’s regional meet. Officials also noted that Harlan County bordered two Region 7 schools in Letcher Central and Perry Central and only one (Bell County) in Region 5.
Harlan County High School and county schools before the consolidation were routinely placed in the same district as 14th Region schools in football, including both Perry and Letcher under the current football format, so it’s hard to understand why it matters what basketball region we’re in when it comes to track and cross country, Harlan County also has a history in Region 7, competing in that region the first six years that HCHS was open.
And if you’ve read this column before, you probably know that I’ve long felt Harlan County belonged in the 14th Region. We fit better in the 14th Region as a mountain school and have more in common with many of the counties going through the same financial problems we’ve experienced, unlike many of the 13th Region schools that have benefited from being located along the I-75 corridor and all the economic benefits that brings. HCHS officials actually petitioned the KHSAA to move to the 14th Region early in the school’s history, but the request was denied.
Now, here we are nine months after the vote to keep HCHS in Region 5 and Harlan County was asked to serve as host for Region 7, in addition to Region 5. It’s clear that Region 7 needs Harlan County as a host with our track facilities.
I’m not someone who routinely criticizes the commissioner or the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. It’s a thankless job and the organization is an easy target for anyone with a complaint.
Commissioner Julian Tackett and the KHSAA did a tremendous job in finding a way to let everyone play last fall and winter during the coronavirus pandemic when many thought it would be impossible. All athletes in high school in the 2020-2021 school year owe the KHSAA a debt of gratitude for giving them a chance to play.
The KHSAA has to take into account what is best for all schools, not just one, in every decision. In this case, however, no one really benefited from the decision to place Harlan County in Region 5 when Harlan County fills a big need as a host for Region 7, fits better with neighbors like Letcher Central and Perry Central and helps balance the two regions as far as number of schools in each.
If nothing else proves Harlan County belongs in Region 7, the KHSAA decision to send every 2A mountain school to HCHS for the regional meet made it clear.