Class AA blog: Checking in with Monticello...or is it Jasper County?

The Hurricanes of Jasper County go by their old school name of Monticello when competing in athletics, which has caused confusion. (Photo: Jasper County school website)
The Hurricanes of Jasper County go by their old school name of Monticello when competing in athletics, which has caused confusion. (Photo: Jasper County school website)

What’s in a name? At Jasper County, the answer hasn’t been so simple. The high school’s facade says “Jasper County High School”, as does the school’s official letterhead and website. Its nickname is the Hurricanes. However, when the Hurricanes compete athletically in the GHSA, they go by their former name of Monticello.

As you can imagine, the school having separate names for its academics and athletics has created some confusion.

The GHSA has always acknowledged the school, which began playing football in 1926, as Monticello. But when the association released its region alignments for the 2020-21 school year, the Hurricanes were listed as Jasper County. As of the publication of this blog, that is still the case. That's likely because the realignments were based on enrollment numbers reported to the GHSA by the Georgia Department Of Education, which refers to the school as Jasper County.

During the school’s board meeting in December, it accepted a recommendation from school superintendent Kenny Garland that, moving forward, the school would be presented as Jasper County, Monticello to the GHSA. It’s a strategy also employed by AA schools Westside, Augusta and Northeast, Macon.

Jimmy Jordan, who coached Jasper County, Monticello from 1973-82 and later became the school’s principal before retiring from that post in 2000, applauded Garland’s initiative, which came his third year in the school system.

“I’m thankful the board was willing to take it on,” Jordan said. “There have always been questions but no one was willing to tackle the issue head-on. Mr. Garland was willing to do that.”

Garland told the AJC that he spoke with GHSA executive director, Dr. Robin Hines, and that Hines said the association will honor that request.

It is Jasper County, Monticello’s hope that this will put an end to the confusion, which turned out to be widespread for a number of reasons. For one, student-athletes had a hard time being discovered when college recruiters tried to find them. Also, some have mistaken Jasper County for the city of Jasper, which is a two-hour drive north.

“We’ve had people apply for jobs here (at the school) thinking it was in Jasper,” Garland said.

Having the dual name of Jasper County, Monticello would appear to be the easiest solution. Other ideas were passed around. The athletic team could simply also go by Jasper County, but the community opinion on that was split. Also, just 30 miles up the road is Jones County, which shares the same initials and uses a “JC” logo for its athletics, as well as the same purple and gold colors of the Hurricanes. Changing the high school name back to Monticello also split the community, but more importantly there would have been significant financial implications in renovating the school’s facade and changing all signage.

The school originally opened in 1922 as Monticello. In the 1970s, the school was renovated to add labs and became Jasper County Comprehensive, keeping the Monticello name for athletics.

“Sports have always been a tradition here so we kept the name Monticello,” said Jasper County principal Buddy Cain, who was born in Monticello and whose dad coached at the school.

Georgia High School Historians Association cofounder and AJC senior prep reporter Todd Holcomb said that, over 50 years ago, it was more common for high schools to have separate academic and athletic names.

“If you see score lists in the AJC in the 1950s, many schools were identified by their cities and not the official school name,” Holcomb said. “Monticello is the lone survivor of that. Jesup was another holdout into the 1970s. It had been Wayne County probably since the 1950s. You'll hear some older fans still doing that informally, like Moultrie for Colquitt County.”

The school’s football history includes the Rose Bowl, which was built in the 1920s and is the only stadium the Hurricanes, who won back-to-back state championships (Class C) in 1955-56, have ever played in. Ulysses Norris played for the Hurricanes and went on to play for Georgia, then in the NFL for the Lions and Bills from 1979-85. Former Hurricane Odell Thurman also played at Georgia, then for the Bengals from 2005-07.

In the early 1990s, the school dropped “Comprehensive” from its name and became Jasper County, which has been its academic name ever since. Ahead of the 2007-08 school year, a brand new campus was built, with the former high school becoming the middle school.

Two years ago, new wall padding to line the middle school gym was ordered. Because of a miscommunication, the padding came in printed as “Jasper County Hurricanes”. Though the school would stick with that padding since it was already paid for, that again reopened the discussion of resolving the dual names.

Now with the school name resolved, the Jasper County, Monticello Hurricanes have their sites set on the future. There's, as Cain estimates, a 90-percent chance their new stadium will be ready in time for next season. They'll also be competing in a new region, moving to 3-AA from 8-AA, where they'll compete with Bleckley County, Dodge County, Lamar County, Northeast-Macon, Southwest and Washington County.

“Our travel situation will be a lot better, so we’re pleased with our new region as far as that’s concerned,” Cain said. “It will be a tough region, competitively.”

The Hurricanes finished 3-7 last season under second-year coach Rydell Jackson, missing the playoffs for the first time in three years. They’re eyeing their first winning season since 2003 and first playoff victory since reaching the quarterfinals in 1992.

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