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Mitchell: GHSA rule ignores the goals of athletics
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High school sports are about camaraderie, inclusion, growth and learning to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

Sure, winning games and championships and awards are a nice part of athletics, but that’s not what’s most important at this level.

What’s most important is teaching young individuals how to work together and succeed as part of a team.

So, when I see a rule in place that could potentially restrict which individuals are allowed to participate, I get the feeling we’re losing touch with the goals of competition.

This is the case, however, with a Georgia High School Association rule that can allow schools to drop “certain special-needs students” from their full-time equivalency counts in order to appeal their placements in the new high school classifications currently being discussed. Students who are not counted toward the school’s FTE count would be ineligible to participate in athletics for the next two years.

Thankfully, the GHSA delayed the reclassification process to vote on whether this rule should be upheld. Executive director Ralph Swearngin has noted a couple of problems with the controversial rule, and the committee will decide its fate on Monday before setting down the new classes.

As a quick reminder before the vote, however, let’s review some of the reasons keeping this rule would not make sense, beginning with the obvious.

Discounting individuals without their knowledge in the FTE counts strips them of the option to participate in a sport that they may desire to be a part of.

Sports have long been a source of great joy and learning for young men and women. In what way is it anyone’s choice but the individuals’ whether they would like to enjoy those experiences?

Imagine going to a basketball court and being told you’re not allowed to play because you aren’t tall enough.

It’s a source of discrimination against people who have every right to participate in whatever they choose.

Stripping them of this right takes away potential experiences that their fellow students are afforded, not to mention the legal ramifications.

The rule also runs the potential risk of schools submitting inaccurate FTE counts to help their athletic programs play in the classification for which they are best suited.

Determining which students should be left off of the counts is subjective and could allow schools to stretch their own definitions in a way that will help them athletically.

Or, in a more extreme case, educators could be tempted to falsify test scores to help get the FTE numbers they want.

I’m sure you’re thinking how far-fetched that sounds, but schools have falsified test scores in the past. And, in an area that values a state football championship as much, or more, than being named a School of Excellence, it isn’t hard to imagine something like this happening.

More than anything, though, it is the act of barring a student from something they may want to be a part of that diminishes the role of sports in society.

I participated in recreational athletics as a kid. I was never a part of a varsity team in high school, but that was my choice.

Let’s be sure to give everyone that same choice. Failing to do so ignores all that comprises the fabric of high school athletics.

David Mitchell is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at