A large collection of Class A rural schools met in Rochelle with the hope of influencing the Georgia High School Association to split the state playoffs into separate private and public tournaments.
Nearly one tumultuous year later, the GHSA acquiesced to what became demands from a group of dissident public schools that was discussing an exit from the league. The GHSA executive committee voted Tuesday at the Macon Coliseum to split public and private schools in the playoffs only in Class A. Public and private schools can continue to play in the regular season, and in some cases, they will be in the same region. Public and private schools in larger classifications will continue to compete against one another for championships.
“This is what we wanted from the start,” said Wilcox County principal Chad Davis, who has served as a leader in the calls for a public/private split. “It took awhile, but we’re glad the Georgia High School Association listened to and addressed our concerns.”
The changes go into effect for the 2012-13 school year, and they represent the most radical changes to the GHSA landscape since the organization was strong-armed by the state legislature in 2000 into implementing a mechanism that multiplied private school enrollments by 1.5. Executive committee member Pat Blenke called the vote -- which passed 36-12 with one abstention -- one of the most important in GHSA history.
The vote will affect several Middle Georgia schools.
Most of the Class A public schools in Middle Georgia were involved in secessionist discussions, with Wilcox County, Twiggs County, Montgomery County, Taylor County, Johnson County, Hawkinsville, Telfair County, Wilkinson County and Wheeler County all attending a Monday meeting of the schools interested in leaving the GISA. Representatives from several of the schools expressed happiness with Tuesday’s vote.
“I just can’t say how glad I am that the GHSA took care of the Class A schools,” Johnson County athletics director Don Norton said. “I think they did the right thing.”
Most private schools in attendance at the meeting expressed displeasure in the vote.
First Presbyterian Day is the only Class A private school in Middle Georgia in the GHSA, and representatives from the Macon school have maintained competition against public schools was a huge incentive in its departure from the Georgia Independent Schools Association in 2010.
FPD athletics director Greg Moore didn’t immediately return messages left on his cell phone, but he did say last week that he still hoped a split wouldn’t occur.
“I would hope we can figure this out together,” Moore said Thursday.
Scott Queen, the athletics director at Eagle’s Landing Christian and one of two private school members on the executive committee, said he was disappointed in the vote.
“I’m really disheartened that we can’t compete against public schools for championships,” he said.
Tuesday’s vote came only after Davis and a secessionist group of more than 30 rural public schools began discussions last January to start a new organization, which would become known as the Georgia Public Schools Association. That group met multiple times during the next 11 months and eventually elected a leadership group that started the process of ratifying bylaws. The group met once again Monday in Macon, with at least 45 schools attending, to put pressure on the GHSA to vote in their favor. None of those involved with the GPSA called for its demise Tuesday, but they expressed satisfaction with the executive committee’s decision.
“Does this absolutely end the GPSA movement (Tuesday)? No,” said Ray Jordan, GPSA leader and Turner County superintendent. “But we are very pleased with how the GHSA voted. They stepped up and showed us support. ... No one set out a year ago to break apart. We’ve all wanted to work within the organization.”
Jordan said five schools indicated on questionnaires at the Monday meeting that they wanted to separate from the GHSA regardless of the vote Tuesday. Jordan said 25 other schools said they may have a continued interest in the GPSA even with a public/private split. Jordan, however, said realistically he didn’t believe many of those undecided schools would remain interested in forming the GPSA.
The GHSA reclassification committee has considered the public versus private arguments for nearly a year. They met with the GPSA representatives in March 2011 and later formed an ad-hoc committee to study possible solutions to the public schools’ complaints. That committee recommended in October to split public and private schools in four sports only, but the executive committee voted against that proposal.
That result led to a Dec. 13 meeting in Rochelle, where the GPSA schools began serious discussions on the new league.
“These guys were ready to leave,” said Jesse Crews, a reclassification subcommittee member and the Charlton County athletics director. “We had to do something to address this, or then we just let 30 schools leave. Then in two years, what if another 30 leave? We couldn’t do nothing.”
Crews, who said his Class A school would not have joined the GPSA, spoke in favor of the public/private split and told the executive committee that the GPSA schools were ready to go. He proposed the split, which was seconded by reclassification subcommittee member Glenn White, the principal at Model. After a long discussion from both supporters and detractors of the split, the vote passed comfortably.
GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said he had a feeling the vote would pass based on his read of the room and the committee, but he said he was a little surprised in the margin.
The GHSA, however, still has significant work left to do.
The central office must determine playoff scenarios for each sport. The GHSA needs to figure out how teams will qualify for the playoffs in each sport. Both the Class A public and Class A private tournaments will consist of 16 schools.
“We’ll get to work on this stuff pretty quickly,” Swearngin said.
The GISA, a private school league of which several Middle Georgia schools are members, could experience a ripple effect from Tuesday’s vote.
Stratford headmaster Robert Veto, who is also a member of the GISA board of trustees, said he could see some angry private schools migrating to the GISA after the GHSA vote. He also said he could also imagine some of the larger private schools in the GISA leaving for the GHSA, because a public/private split could intrigue some.
“We are watching with interest,” Veto said.