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GHSA approves public-private split in playoffs
Habersham's appeal for lateral move denied
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MACON --  The Georgia High School Association voted Tuesday to create separate state playoffs and state champions for public and private schools in Class A.

The motion, which was passed 36-12, will be put into effect for the 2012-2013 school year along with the reclassification plan, which was ratified at the meeting.

Habersham Central’s appeal to move from Region 7-AAAAAA to Region 6B-AAAAAA was denied prior to the ratification.

The motion to split public and private schools into separate playoffs for all sports was offered at the meeting as a response to the dispute between public and private schools in Class A that has resulted in a number of small public schools making plans to start their own association. Whether those schools will now go through with their plan remains to be seen.

The GHSA passed a motion to get in contact with the leadership of the proposed organization, the Georgia Public Schools Association, for a meeting as soon as possible.

“There’s still work to be done,” said GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin. “We want a meeting pretty soon to see where we stand.”

Executive committee members throughout the discussion remarked that the vote today would have an effect on what the schools in the proposed new association will decide to do, and possibly whether they will stay in GHSA or not.

Commerce athletic director Donnie Drew said after the meeting that he would be surprised if all of the public schools didn’t now remain in GHSA.

Area Class A public schools Commerce and Towns County were not involved in any of the talks about breaking away, but they, along with fellow Region 8 school Lakeview Academy, will be affected when teams reach the postseason.

“It’s going to be quite a bit different.,” Drew said. “I have a lot more questions than answers right now.”

The new arrangement will mean that in each Class A region, the top two public schools will advance to one tournament and the top two private schools will advance in another. 

The issues still to be decided include how many sports in Class A will qualify for a playoff. In one situation, only 10 public schools play soccer, whereas a sport needs 16 schools playing in a classification to have a state champion. Swearngin said it’s possible that more public schools might add sports with the knowledge that they might be more competitive under the new plan.

Drew said that Commerce wrestling could be one of the sports affected, and that combining Class A and AA for sports like wrestling, as is already done in volleyball, could be a solution.

Drew said that winning a state title, which may or may not be easier for the Tigers depending on how the plan is finalized, won’t be the same when it’s only against half of Class A.

“I think it waters it down some; it’s not has prestigious as it would be,” Drew said. “I’m not terribly excited about it. But once I see it all finalized I hope enough of us are OK with it.

“Change is always going to happen.”

In Habersham Central’s case, the initial change, moving to Region 7-AAAAAA, will be the only change.

Habersham Central principal Jim Van Hooser and athletic director Amy Hood traveled south for the second time in the past two months to appeal the reclassification committee’s decision that they would not be able to move laterally to another region.

The executive committee unanimously opposed the change as well.

Swearngin noted that the primary case for being able to change regions is to cut down travel times.

“Fitting people in classes uses FTE (full time equivalency) enrollment numbers,” Swearngin said. “Putting people in regions is based on geography.”

The representatives from Habersham said they requested the move based on the large disparity in the 9-11 grade enrollment numbers between Habersham Central, which will have the smallest number of students, and the average of the remaining Region 7 schools, which is 2,287 students.

The average enrollment for the Region 6 schools is 1,615. Habersham Central’s 9-11 enrollment is 1,450, the smallest in Region 7.

Region 7 includes North Gwinnett, Mountain View, Mill Creek, Peachtree Ridge, Duluth, Meadowcreek, Collins Hill and Norcross. Region 6, which had a representative come during the reclassification committee appeal and declare that the region did not want Habersham Central in due to travel times, is made up of Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, West forsyth, Alpharetta and Centennial.

The Habersham administrators did mention, however, that three of the Region 6 schools called football coach Stuart Cunningham with the intention of scheduling games and traveling to Mount Airy.

“We are concerned with the competitive balance,” Van Hooser said. “They put us in a region where the (enrollment) disparity is so large. But we’ve done everything we can, now we can’t dwell on that.”

Their contention was that the average distance in travel times between the schools in Region 6 and Habersham was just 13 minutes longer, not enough to be as much of a factor as the competitive imbalance, Van Hooser said.

The committee members disagreed and quickly voted against the appeal.

“It’s very frustrating,” Hood said. “You feel like you’re in a no-win situation.”

But with the reclassification ratified and Habersham Central stuck in Region 7, Van Hooser said the school is ready to move forward.

“Habersham Central has a great tradition of rising to the challenge,” Van Hooser said. “I think that’s what you’re going to see from us.”

Now that the classes and regions are ratified, coaches can sign contracts and solidify schedules for the upcoming school year.

And a process that has taken nearly a year, from nearly adopting the 4/8 plan, which would have split four classes into two for the playoffs and created eight state champions) to adopting a six-classification plan is complete.

Gainesville will be moving up two classes to Region 8-AAAAA, Buford will be returning to a Northeast Georgia region in 8-AAA and Johnson, now in Class AAAA, will play a non-region football schedule. 

Region committees are now free to meet for the purposes of determining league schedules.


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