Andre Moton of Ooltewah goes up for a jump shot against Matt Whitmire and another Bradley Central defender.
Left a step outside of the District 5-AAA boys' basketball race a year ago, Rhea County decided to join the party this season.
The Golden Eagles even are fighting for the regular-season title in the rugged league. They are tied with Cleveland for first place with 6-2 district records, while Ooltewah and Bradley Central are right behind at 5-2. Bradley's Bears handed Rhea one of their two district losses but had to forfeit the victory for playing what the TSSAA considered an ineligible player. Rhea does not get credit for a win, and it isn't a loss for the Bears.
The 5-AAA tournament is at Bradley Central next month.
Last season, McMinn County went to the state tournament even though it entered the district tournament as the fourth seed. The Cherokees currently sit fifth and would be a tough out against whoever finishes fourth.
Some of the other area district boys' battles are tight, but in others a couple of teams have separated themselves from the pack.
- District 6-AA: East Ridge is in first place with only one district loss. Tyner sits second with two league losses, while Brainerd and Howard each has three. The four teams up top have all defeated each other. Tyner's Rams gave the Pioneers their only loss, but East Ridge has wins over the Panthers and Hustlin' Tigers. Howard could be the hottest team in the district with four straight wins, but Brainerd also has four in a row and will host the district tournament.
- District 7-AA: Sequatchie County seems to be coasting to the tournament's top seed, with an undefeated district record through five games. The battle is for second, as the top two seeds get byes and spots in the Region 4-AA tournament. Signal Mountain is second with a 5-2 mark, but Chattanooga Christian is right behind at 5-3 and Bledsoe County is 4-4. Notre Dame has won three straight district games after an 0-4 start. There is no home site for the tournament; each game will be hosted by the higher seeded team.
- District 5-AA: Defending district champion Sequoyah is first at 5-1 in the district, but the Chiefs are coming off a 36-point loss to McMinn Central, which like Polk County is 4-2 in the district. The tournament will be at McMinn County High School.
- District 5-A: Grace Academy is 4-0 in the league and handed Arts & Sciences its only loss, but the two have to meet once again. CSAS is the host site for the tournament.
- District 6-A: As with its region counterpart, this district is heavy at the top with Van Buren County 7-1 and Lookout Valley 5-1 in league play. They meet again Feb. 3 at Lookout Valley. Marion County is the host site for the tournament.
- Division II-AA: The current state of the East/Middle Region standings is deceiving. Top-ranked McCallie is fifth with a 1-1 record. Baylor is 1-2, but with six of the eight teams in the Nashville area, there still is a lot of games left to be played. The Blue Tornado and Red Raiders play each other Saturday. Chattanooga-area teams play eight region games, whereas midstate teams each play 12.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/gh3sports.