In what is being billed as both a cost-saving and competitive measure, Dawson County and Riverview middle schools will combine their football, softball and wrestling programs, as well as their football cheerleading squads.
According to Mark Merges, principal of Dawson County Middle, the teams will use the high school's colors and tiger mascot instead of their former eagle and tiger ensembles.
"We'll be following suit with the high school," he said. "We'll be using their colors and logo instead of our old ones. They've been extremely supportive of us and this transition."
The middle schools are currently part of the North Georgia Mountain League. Merges noted that neighboring Gilmer and Pickens counties have already combined their sports teams.
"We were too small to compete," he said of the situation in Dawson County. "All of the teams we would be competing against would be double the size of our schools independently."
Merges said the schools are trying to combine the Mountain League with the Pioneer League for next year.
The sports team consolidation is also designed to foster a sense of cohesion and camaraderie between the schools.
"Students will not only be able to compete collectively with neighboring schools of a similar size, but they will also play with the same peers throughout middle and high school," Merges said.
According to Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter, the decision was equal parts about savings and competition.
"With our reductions in staffing, it has become very difficult to have a full slate of coaches," Porter said. "This change will allow us to have better coverage, especially in football.
"Also, for the most part, the teams that we are playing are teams representing the entire school district, so this will even the playing field somewhat."
While the merger will mainly affect next year's athletic endeavors, joint practices and tryouts have begun.
Softball will practice at Riverview, while no decision has been made about wrestling practice.
The football team practiced this spring at Riverview and is scheduled to practice at Dawson County Middle during the season. Games will alternate venues.
Merges said he and Riverview Principal Bill Zadernak, along with their respective staffs, had often talked about the possibility.
"There were many discussions with stakeholders," he said. "This was a difficult decision to make."