The story that never ends.
Or at least, the story that never seems to end for me.
I started covering a potential exodus of Macon GISA schools shortly after moving to Macon in 2005.
Officials at FPD, Mount de Sales, Stratford and Tattnall Square – I’ll call them the “Big Four” – were worried about reclassification and a dwindling number of schools in GISA Class AAA. At the time, the GISA had just lost Eagle’s Landing Christian to the GHSA. The bluff worked and the GISA slightly reworked its region alignments in what appeared to be appeasement for the Big Four.
Never miss a local story.
I’m sure everyone knows the timeline after that. The Big Four decided to stay put in the GISA before the GHSA’s deadline for new members in 2007. The Big Four became the Big Three when FPD announced it was leaving for the GHSA in 2008, and the other three schools decided to stay in the GISA in early 2009. The Big Three considered the move once again in 2011, but decided to stay in the GISA largely because of the uncertainty surrounded reclassification in the GHSA, which had a mess on its hands in Class A with dissension between the public and private schools.
Mount de Sales may decide its fate on Thursday night at a board of trustees meeting. Tattnall will vote in February. Stratford will react if one or both announce their departure from the GISA, but Stratford may feel like inaction (i.e. no vote) is a way of showing solidarity with the GISA and a way to send a message to the others that they plan on staying put.
Make no mistake, the Big Three would love to stick together. They were mad when FPD announced independently it would leave for the GHSA in 2008. The Big Three still contend all four schools were close to making a decision before FPD announced. Officials at FPD have argued that someone needed to make the leap or no one was going to go.
We may be back at that point again with one of the Big Three needing to make a decision by itself to force the hand of the others to stay or leave. Mount de Sales is in that pole position with the potential vote taking place Thursday. The school’s board could always table the vote and force one of the others to take the lead. I don’t think that will happen.
I don’t know what will happen Thursday, but here’s what I can say.
I’ve thought Mount de Sales would be the next to pull the trigger following FPD's departure in 2008. The school competed in the GHSA for years before joining the GISA in 1980. The Cavaliers’ head football coach Robert Slocum has gone on the record a number of times since 2005 citing concerns he has with the waning membership of the GISA. He has also said he believes it’s a matter of time before the Big Four are together again in the same league. Other coaches at Mount de Sales have privately cited a desire to compete in the GHSA.
Having said that, I still don’t know how the full board leans. I’ve received mixed signals from people close to the situation who I’ve spoken with. One thinks it’s up in the air. Another thinks they’ll go. A third thinks they’ll stay. If Mount de Sales votes to stay in the GISA, then I can’t see a scenario where the other two leave. I still think Mount de Sales will be the first to go, I’m just not 100 percent sure it will be Thursday. As of a month ago, I felt like Tattnall would be the most likely to go. The picture at Tattnall, however, may be muddled with the departure of football coach Barney Hester to Howard. The exodus of a football coach may not hurt many schools, but Hester meant so much to Tattnall. One of the school’s primary objectives is finding a football coach, and I’m sure the administration would love to get input from any guy they’d hire. If Mount de Sales leaves, then I’d put Tattnall’s chances of following at just over 50 percent.
Stratford probably wants a dance partner either way. It may stay even if Mount de Sales leaves, provided it can convince Tattnall to stay with it. But if the dominoes really start falling – for example, Mount de Sales and Tattnall leave and schools like Deerfield-Windsor or even Southland or Westfield feel like they have no choice but to go – then I can’t see Stratford staying put. Stratford is also seeking a football coach, and the school is in the midst of interviews. I’m sure the topic of going to the GHSA has come up.
These are just my opinions, and I could be wrong. Again, I thought Mount de Sales would go in 2011. These observations are based on conversations I’ve had with officials at all three schools.
As I wrote at the top of this post, a dwindling membership was a primary concern for the Big Four in 2005. That problem has worsened over the past eight years. I’ll take a look at that tomorrow and other reasons the Big Three may have for looking into the move.
Check back later for PART II: Breaking down the decision.