The Georgia High School Association released its preliminary breakdowns of classifications for the 2016-18 seasons Wednesday night on its website.
With the reclassifications for the next two years of play, there is now a seventh classification.
The “Big 44,” as it was originally called in August, encompasses 48 teams. The cut off for the new class was initially 2,000 students, but was bumped to 2,092.
With the new classes, region assignments will be released Dec. 1. The GHSA reclassification committee will finalize and ratify the new classes and regions Jan. 13, 2016.
Area schools who will be in Class AAAAAA next fall are Gainesville and Habersham Central.
While Habersham Central is currently in the top tier, Gainesville is making the step up.
According to athletic director Billy Kirk, the Red Elephants are effectively staying in AAAAA.
“It’s a semantical thing,” Kirk said. “We really didn’t get a bump. We’re exactly where we thought we would be.”
Kirk said the troubling thing for Gainesville is the loss of the region rivalry with Flowery Branch since the Falcons will be remaining in AAAAA.
“I’ve talked to their AD,” Kirk said. “We want to continue what we have. We were hoping for the same class, but we’re not.”
Kirk said he doesn’t expect to see more than six schools in the Red Elephants’ region. He had two guesses as to how their new class would look.
First, Kirk said he thought the GHSA would put Gainesville with Habersham Central, Lanier, Winder-Barrow, Apalachee and Dacula.
The other option he is looking at is having Habersham Central, Lanier and North Fulton County Schools, such as Johns Creek, Northview and Chattahoochee, together.
Still, there would be five games to schedule for football. Right now, one of those will be Jefferson in Week 0 of 2016, Kirk said.
Flowery Branch, Johnson and Buford will all be in Class AAAAA for the 2016-18 seasons.
For the Falcons, it’ll be another cycle in Class AAAAA. For the Wolves and the Knights, it’s a jump from Class AAAA.
Flowery Branch was expected to be a class up, but when the GHSA moved the cut off for the largest class in the state, it pushed the Falcons back.
With the reclassification, schools can appeal where they’re placed.
Flowery Branch AD Jimmy Lawler said the Falcons are not considering making the jump to Class AAAAAA to be with the Red Elephants.
“The rivalry we had with Gainesville, we hate to lose that, but we’ve evaluated where we would fall and we’ve decided it would be good to stay in 5A,” Lawler said.
The Wolves knew they’d be making a jump due to a three-percent rule the GHSA put in place, which says if more than three percent of the school’s population comes from outside the attendance zone (county), the school will be moved up a class.
“We weren’t surprised with that,” said Buford AD Dexter Wood. “We were placed exactly where we thought we would be.”
Wood said the school’s athletes will have to try to match the competition level of a higher classification.
“Obviously, when you move up a class, the competition will be tougher,” he said. “Our level of excellence has to try to match that. Some of our sports are further along and may be ready to compete at that high level. Some will have to keep building.”
Changing classifications is nothing new to Buford, which was a Class A school as recently as 2000, and steadily grown from there.
“I think we’re excited about the new challenge,” Wood said. “We’ve done this many times. It’s not a new rodeo for us, at least not for the coaches who have been here a while.”
The area will be littered with Class AAAA teams as Chestatee, East Hall, West Hall, Riverside Military, White County and Jefferson are in the listing.
Chestatee and White County are the only area schools on the list who were already in the class.
East Hall, West Hall and Jefferson are all making the jump from Class AAA.
The biggest jump is Riverside Military, who is currently competing in the Class AA ranks.
Banks County,Dawson County, Jackson County and Lumpkin County will all remain in Class AAA.
North Hall is making a move down from Class AAAA to join them.
Billy Wells, the Trojans’ AD, said the move down isn’t much of a surprise.
“We knew last time we were right on the boarderline,” Wells said. “We were toward the bottom. We did think it was a possibility of being on the bubble again.”
The Trojans, like Flowery Branch, have the option to submit a request to play up a classification by noon Nov. 30, if they want to stick with its fellow county schools.
Wells said he is working through the different scenarios of staying in Class AAA and making the leap back into Class AAAA. As of now, though, no decision has been made as to what the school will do.
Lakeview Academy remains in Class A.