The Corky Kell Classic, an annual event that symbolically kicks off the Georgia high school football season, is in its 23rd year, but it’s safe to say there has never been one like what is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at McEachern.
For the first time, the event is being played over two days with a record 14 teams. Ten of those teams are state-ranked, also an event record. Five of the seven games match ranked opponents. Seven of the Top 10 teams in Class AAAAAA will participate.
All seven games will be televised by Fox Sports South, which will broaden viewership into Alabama, Tennessee and parts of Florida and South Carolina.
But the biggest change in this year’s event — the move to McEachern’s campus stadium in Powder Springs — was not planned. A rare conflict with the Atlanta Falcons’ preseason schedule forced the Kell Classic out of the Georgia Dome. The games will be played at Cantrell Stadium, which seats about 10,000.
A venue change is not unprecedented. In 1997, games were farmed out to McEachern and Brookwood when the Georgia Dome had roof damage.
The new venue presents two special challenges.
One is transportation. With five games on Saturday starting at 8:45 a.m., there will be a revolving door of fan bases that won’t stop moving until the sun goes down. Attendance for the one-day event at the Georgia Dome typically reached 25,000 to 30,000. Event co-founder Dave Hunter said there will be satellite parking, shuttle buses and plenty of signage to help fans find their way.
The other challenge, the big one, according to Hunter, is the heat. The forecast for Friday and Saturday puts temperatures in the mid-90s. Games will be played around the clock on Saturday, so there’s no escaping it.
“All the coaches and myself are concerned about the heat,’’ Hunter said. “We’re taking proactive steps to help with that. We’re talking daily to players about hydrating. We’ll extend halftime or have more timeouts, if necessary. We’ll have cool mist on the sidelines. There will be cooling stations for fans, where they can lie down.’’
Hunter can’t be happier with the teams. The marquee games are probably Saturday’s final two — No. 1 McEachern vs. No. 4 North Gwinnett in a rematch from the 2013 Class AAAAAA semifinals and a rare meeting between No. 9 Norcross, the two-time defending AAAAAA champion, and No. 5 Tucker, the AAAAA runner-up that moved up in class this season.
The other games matching ranked teams are No. 2 Colquitt County vs. No. 6 Mill Creek, No. 5 Carrollton (AAAA) vs. No. 7 Kell (AAAAA) and No. 2 Sandy Creek (AAAA) vs. No. 3 Archer.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had a better lineup,’’ Hunter said. “You don’t get to play in this game unless you’re established.’’
6 p.m. — North Paulding vs. Creekview
8:30 p.m. — Archer vs. Sandy Creek
9 a.m. — Carrollton vs. Kell
11:45 a.m. — Mill Creek vs. Colquitt County
2:45 p.m. — Brookwood vs. Valdosta
5:30 p.m. — Norcross vs. Tucker
8:45 p.m. — North Gwinnett vs. McEachern