If you ever needed additional proof that Georgia grew up a storm in the 2000s, consider the following.
After 22 years in which schools were divided into four classifications, in 2000 the Georgia High School Association added a fifth in order to align the GHSA’s 377 member high schools.
Now, just 11 years later, the GHSA has decided a sixth classification is in order to handle a membership that has grown to 437 schools.
In a nutshell, the idea is to cut down on travel while also ensuring fairer competition. Or at least that’s the idea up in metro-Atlanta.
Critics, mostly from outside metro-Atlanta, say it won’t help with either problem. They hint at drastic legal measures to stop the process before it goes into effect in 2012.
Though he acknowledged the plan is not without its detractors, longtime GHSA spokesman Steve Figueroa said he hasn’t heard of any legal challenges to the move, which was approved May 10 by a 26-24 vote of the GHSA’s executive committee.
And he noted it’s almost impossible to please every athletic director in Georgia.
“There are some people who do not like the six-classification plan, of course,” Figueroa said in an email. “But then there are some people who do not like the current five-class system, some who did not like the previous four-class system and some who do not like the suggested 4-into-8 plan — in other words, there are always some people who are not happy with whatever plan is adopted. Unfortunately, we have not yet found a way to make everybody happy when it comes to the complicated issue of reclassification.”
It’s a complicated issue made more complex by the growth of metro-Atlanta and its abundance of schools on the one hand and, on the other, the distances between rural high schools in other less populated areas of the state.
And it’s not a new problem. After all, Warner Robins always has been about 140 miles from Valdosta — but only recently have schools from the two cities been stuck in the same region.
Nor is the disparity in enrollment — particularly in the largest classification, where schools such as Brookwood, with a population of slightly more than 3,400, could meet a school with a student body of less than 2,000 in the state playoffs.
In 2002, the GHSA tinkered with the idea of creating a Super 32 — which would have put the state’s largest 32 high schools in their own playoff bracket. It created a lot of excitement and angst and then went away.
Under the new setup, the top 15 percent of the state’s schools in terms of population will be classified as AAAAAA, while the bottom 15 percent will go to A. The rest will fill up AA, AAA, AAAA and AAAA.
Under last year’s enrollment numbers, the new system bumps Bryan County High School, for example, from A to AA, while Bradwell Institute would go from AAAAA to AAAAAA. Richmond Hill High School also would move up in classification.
Liberty County High School would drop to AAA and Long County would stay the same — but move to Region 1-AA with a lot of south-South Georgia schools.
But that’s using last year’s enrollment figures, which in the bureaucratic jargon used in education are called full-time equivalents, or FTEs. And it doesn’t take into account schools that may opt to play up in classification.
And the current sample region alignment for 2012 and beyond doesn’t take into account what happens if the measure is overturned.
In the meantime, here’s a look at the potential region lineups. There are eight regions in Georgia, and the top four teams from each region qualify for the state playoffs.
I’ve included only those that could be home to local schools.
It’s important to keep in mind that schools can opt to play up in class — from A to AA or even AAAAA, for example — but not down.
In other words, take this list with a grain of salt.
Area schools are in bold.
McIntosh County Academy
Savannah Country Day
St. Vincent’s Academy
Emmanuel County Institute
Savannah Country Day
Jeff Whitten writes about sports for the Coastal Courier and Bryan County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.