GHSA closing in on new executive director

jheeter@macon.comSeptember 16, 2013 

As he has many times before, Ralph Swearngin sat at the head table of a GHSA executive committee meeting.

Flanked by top lieutenant Gary Phillips, GHSA media director Steve Figueroa, GHSA attorneys and executive committee president Gary Holmes and vice president Walter Wade on Monday morning in the Magnolia meeting room at the Macon Marriott City Center, Swearngin watched over one of his final executive committee meetings as the executive director of the GHSA.

“I haven’t had time to really think, ‘This is my last of this or my last of something else,’ but it’s going to hit me pretty soon,” said Swearngin, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

He has been through a variety of these executive committee meetings since taking over for Tommy Guillebeau in 2001 -- the long ones and the short ones, the calm ones and the contentious ones. Monday’s meeting wasn’t short, but it wasn’t contentious, either.

The most discussed topic in Monday’s three-hour meeting was a decision that hardship and appeals committee meetings must adhere to open meetings laws due to a change in the state law. GHSA attorney Alan Connell said those meetings could go into executive session only when the committee was discussing the academic record of the student’s appeal or hardship case. The discussion largely dealt with the logistics of how and when the committee could go into executive decision, but Connell said the vote and the ­discussion had to be conducted in public.

In the past, these meetings were conducted behind closed doors, and some members seemed uneasy at the prospect of making hardship decisions in front of the public or parents or other schools or the media.

The committee voted to maintain the current six-classification structure by a 50-7 vote and voted to base reclassification on student populations for grades 9-12 -- they previously used 9-11. The GHSA staff will also survey member schools about their number of students who live outside their service area.

As is usually the case, much of the legwork for the executive committee meeting took place in the individual committee meetings during the weekend.

The board of trustees mapped out their strategy to locate Swearngin’s successor during a meeting Saturday night. The 10-member group accepted applications until Aug. 1 -- Swearngin said they received five or six applications -- and eliminated some candidates. The group will meet during the first week in October to conduct interviews.

The board of trustees will make its selection and recommend the choice to the executive committee at a called meeting two weeks later.

“I pledged to them that I’ll give them as much or as little advice as needed,” said Swearngin, who is a non-voting member of the board of trustees.

Every previous GHSA executive director has come from within the organization. Swearngin said there are some internal and external candidates who have applied.

The executive committee also approved changes to the constitution, including allowing an additional week of preseason practice for baseball, establishing a $250 penalty for schools that change their football schedules after June 1 and changed playing distances and qualifying scores to increase postseason golf participation.

The executive committee voted down (36-22) a proposal to stretch the state golf tournament to 36 holes.

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