Houston County, Northside, Warner Robins stay put

jheeter@macon.comDecember 3, 2013 

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Houston Co. coach Von Lassiter welcomes his team to the sideline after taking an 18-14 lead with a field goal at the end of the first half against Harris Co.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com Buy Photo

THOMASTON -- Houston County High School Principal Michelle Masters traveled to the biennial Georgia High School Association region reclassification meeting Tuesday morning with a mix of curiosity and nervousness.

Masters, who is also a member of the GHSA executive committee, knew her school and Northside and Warner Robins could have been shipped to a region north, east or west. The GHSA reclassification committee meets once every two years to place schools in regions for interscholastic activities, doing so every two years to account for student population changes in its membership of nearly 450 public and private schools across the state.

At the end of the 150-minute meeting, Masters school’s region remained largely unchanged, although it did bounce between two regions during the meeting.

Houston County, Northside and Warner Robins joined Jones County and six Augusta area schools (Cross Creek, Evans, Greenbrier, Grovetown, Lakeside-Evans and Richmond Academy) in Region 2-AAAAA. The only changes to the region were the additions of Cross Creek and Richmond Academy.

The move didn’t come without controversy for the Class AAAAA schools.

The group that worked on Class AAAAA -- the second largest of the state’s six classifications -- left out six Augusta-area schools in the hopes of pushing them down to Class AAAA through the use of the association’s isolation policy. But the policy is designed to take one school that is isolated and move it up or down a class to a more geographically friendly region. GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin told the committee members they couldn’t isolate six schools that are beside each other.

So the committee postponed Class AAAAA until after announcing the other classes. It reconvened and had to find a spot for the six Augusta schools. The Augusta schools were then placed back in the region with Jones County and the Houston County schools.

“We have to play where they put us, so we are excited to stay with familiar faces from the Augusta area,” Houston County athletics director Von Lassiter said. “However, travel to Augusta is pretty tough.”

The Henry County schools moved to a mega region of Clayton and DeKalb schools that now includes 17 schools. Only four schools from each region make it to the state playoffs in any sport, so 17 schools will vie for four slots.

Reclassification went calmly for many Middle Georgia schools, most of which stayed in the same region or one similar to the one for the last two-year cycle. The new reclassification cycle runs from 2014-16.

The biggest change among Middle Georgia public schools came two weeks ago when Rutland and Westside dropped from Class AAAA to Class AAA because of a decline in student population.

Those two joined fellow Macon schools Central and Southwest and Peach County in Region 2-AAA. Joining the local schools will be Jackson and three Columbus schools (Jordan, Kendrick and Spencer).

With Rutland and Westside dropping down a class, Region 2-AAAA had some empty spots. The remaining members of the region -- Baldwin, Howard, Mary Persons, Perry, Veterans and West Laurens -- will be joined by Upson-Lee. Swearngin asked the reclassification committee why Pike County wasn’t also a part of the region. Pike County is 15 miles from Upson-Lee and less than 30 from Mary Persons. The athletics directors from Mary Persons and Veterans both said they’d like to see Pike County appeal and move into the region. Schools can appeal to a lateral transfer in the same classification until Dec. 13. Appeals will be heard on Dec. 17. Pike County’s current region takes it from Carrollton to LaGrange (Troup) to Atlanta (Grady).

“From a financial standpoint, it would be good for us and the region, in terms of gate receipts and travel,” Mary Persons athletics director Brian Nelson said. “From a competitive standpoint, they would add a good mix.”

Region 4-AA stayed intact except Taylor County dropped to Class A. The rest of the region -- Bleckley County, Crawford County, Lamar County, Macon County, Monticello, Northeast and Putnam County -- stayed together.

The three Macon private schools jumping from the Georgia Independent Schools Association to the GHSA (Mount de Sales, Stratford and Tattnall Square) will join old rival First Presbyterian Day in Region 7-A, which also includes Georgia Military College, Twiggs County and Wilkinson County.

“As far as the four schools being together, that is certainly one thing we had hoped for,” Tattnall athletics director Todd Whetsel said. “To keep the old rivalries going and for the travel, those are good games. I’m sure we would have played each other anyway if we weren’t all in the same region.”

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