Decision day for Stratford, Tattnall Square

jheeter@macon.comMarch 4, 2013 

Monday, March 3, 2013.

It's decision day for Stratford and Tattnall Square. Or at least Monday is scheduled to be the day both schools decide whether or not to leave the GISA. The boards of both schools could conceivably table the issue, but they have to make a decision before April 1, so I assume both schools will take that vote Monday.

I haven’t written about the GISA/GHSA issue for a few weeks with basketball playoffs taking up so much of my time. But I haven’t forgotten about the decisions – Stratford athletics director Grady Smith is surely tired of me asking the question – and today is a great time to catch up the latest developments following Mount de Sales’ decision to leave for the GHSA and Westfield’s announcement that it would remain in the GISA.

I’ll start with Stratford.

Many people, myself included, believed the hiring of Mark Farriba was a signal as to which way Stratford was leaning. Many feel Farriba wouldn’t return to Stratford if the school was determined to remain in the GISA. At least a part of his move to Prince Avenue Christian was the opportunity to coach in the GHSA, and he told me as far back as 2005 that he wouldn’t have been against a Stratford move to the GHSA.

I asked Farriba directly, well, sort of directly, about his return to Stratford in late January and what that meant for the school’s interest in the GHSA.

The exchange:

Me: “You may not be able to answer this question, but…”

Farriba: “I can’t so don’t ask.”

Me: “What does your coming to Stratford mean for the future with the GISA and GHSA?”

Farriba: “That’s a family decision, and the Stratford family will take their time and look at it.”

Of course I had to ask the question, and he knew that. His return to Macon has been a big topic of discussion in the community and much of that talk revolved around whether or not Stratford would leave the GISA. I also knew he wouldn’t answer the question. Farriba isn’t the kind of person who would go rogue and comment.

During the past month, I’ve had a number of conversations with both Stratford head of school Bob Veto and Smith, and I’ve probably asked half the Stratford coaches about their thoughts. I even spent a few minutes chatting with the chair of Stratford’s board of trustees Jeff Avant on Saturday night.

Here is what I know based on conversations with people from Stratford and others around the GISA.

Stratford, led by Avant, Smith and Veto, have studied a potential move the past four years. They met with GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin four years ago and discussed the specifics of a potential move, discussing the GHSA calendar, eligibility and other concerns. They obviously decided not to go to the GHSA four years ago, and they decided against it once again two years ago.

But some of the concerns they had a few years ago that pushed the group to consider the GHSA – largely a dwindling membership of large GISA schools – haven’t been alleviated. Adding to those concerns, Mount de Sales announced it would leave for the GHSA, and Tattnall was considering a similar move. Stratford re-investigated a move to the GHSA, and Avant, Smith, Veto and Farriba met with Swearngin once again. This meeting touched on some of the previous topics, and the Stratford delegation probed deeper than in the past. The group had this meeting, plus discussions with Farriba about what Stratford could expect in the GHSA.

I believe one of the concerns Stratford had two years ago revolved around uncertainty with the GHSA’s hectic reclassification cycle. In fact, I don’t believe Mount de Sales, Stratford or Tattnall even really considered a move two years ago because of the fight between GHSA Class A public and private schools. I’m sure those concerns linger, but I don’t believe they are as much of a deal-breaker this time around. If Stratford or Tattnall announces it will leave and the GHSA enacts a crippling multiplier rule or some other hefty penalty on private schools, then Stratford or Tattnall could decide to return to the GISA. Dominion Christian made this decision a few years back. Nothing is really binding until football contracts are signed in Jan. 2014.

Smith told me multiple times this weekend the school’s GHSA/GISA advisory committee, which is composed of Avant, Smith, Veto and a few others, will meet Monday to make a final recommendation. That recommendation will be presented to the full board of trustees Monday night, and a vote will likely be held to leave for the GHSA or remain in the GISA. The board consists of more than 20 members, and Smith said he believes the decision could go either way. Some support the move, others do not.

No matter the size of the board, I have a hard time believing it wouldn’t go along with the committee’s recommendation.

What will be the recommendation?

People around the GISA – and I spoke with a lot of them – believe Stratford is headed to the GHSA. I really don’t like making predictions on this sort of thing, but this is an opinion blog. If you pinned me down and made me take a side, I’d agree Stratford is probably leaning toward going. I’ve covered this story for almost eight years, and nothing would surprise me either way. Much like I’ll write two separate stories based on the potential decisions – one of which no one but me will ever see – I’ve been told Stratford has crafted a press release for either decision.

That brings us to Tattnall Square.

Tattnall’s advisory committee, which is chaired by former GISA executive director Michael Drake, has already made its decision. The committee, which is larger than Stratford’s, came to a decision last week. I asked Drake on Thursday night if they’d made a decision, and he said they had. I asked if he would share the decision, and he declined. I asked the GISA’s second in command Tommy Whittle if anyone from Tattnall or Stratford had informed the league that they were headed to the GHSA, and he said they hadn’t.

Tattnall’s advisory committee will present its recommendation to Tattnall’s board Monday night as well. I believe Tattnall’s meeting starts after Stratford’s, so the people in the meeting room at Tattnall will likely know of Stratford’s decision before they vote. If Stratford votes to go, the Tattnall board may have a tough time voting to remain in the GISA. I do know a few coaches at Tattnall are hoping for a move to the GHSA, but I don’t know as much about the Tattnall decision-making process. Tattnall’s AD Todd Whetsel had a pair of Final Four basketball games to get ready for last week and the school hired a new football coach, so I didn’t have much time to chat with him about the decision. So, Tattnall is a little tougher to read, but I feel like the school is also leaning towards going, although a source who generally knows what they are talking about e-mailed me Sunday and thinks Tattnall won’t go. It’s a toss-up, but I do think Stratford and Tattnall make the same decision, whichever way it goes.

Whatever Stratford and Tattnall decide, this is going to be an historic decision for the GISA.

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