When the Georgia High School Association voted recently to realign all high schools in Georgia into six classifications instead of the five that exist now, many predicted that the vote would come down to the representatives of the metro Atlanta schools against those from South Georgia.
That’s what happened, though in an effort to reach a compromise, Region 3-AAAAA Secretary Earl Etheridge presented the 4/8 plan.
The plan, voted down, 31-19, by GHSA executive committee members, would have created four classes. Each class would have had two tiers that would play for a state championship.
Etheridge said the plan would have allowed schools to fill their schedules with nearby teams.
“I don’t think the schools from the metro Atlanta area really understand how hard the travel is on the rural schools in the south. The 4/8 plan evened the playing field for everyone, but you have 15,000 students within a 20-30 minute radius in metro Atlanta, so they don’t understand about someone having to go two hours for a game,” Etheridge said.
Under the new classification plan, a school like Long County may be in Class A and possibly could be in a region with Early County on the Georgia/Alabama line.
“We are in a recession whether we want to admit it or not, and having to travel a long distance is going to affect the students,” Etheridge said. “And (it will) also cost school districts more money in fuel (because) diesel is going to be $5 a gallon.”
The actual breakdown for the six classes will not be decided until October, when schools tally the number of full-time students in a process known as a Full Time Equivalent count.
The FTE count is a key component in the formula to decide the amount of student funding a school receives. The top 15 percent of the largest high schools in Georgia will be Class AAAAAA.
That means the 65 high schools with the highest FTE will be in the largest classification.
Bradwell Institute currently is the 66th largest high school in the state, but it possible could be considered a Class AAAAAA school when realignment begins. It already is considered a AAAAAA school in one possible reclassification scenario provided by the GHSA.
In that scenario, Bradwell would be in a five-team Region 3-AAAAAA with Camden County, Brunswick, Coffee County and Effingham County.
“People tend to forget that we are dealing with student-athletes, and they are students first and athletes second,” Bradwell Institute Athletic Director Jim Walsh Jr. said.
Though Walsh also is the head football coach, he said his real concern is travel time for the other sports the Tigers compete in.
“It’s definitely not about football only,” Walsh said. “We don’t want basketball and baseball having to travel a long distance for games and kids getting home at 2 or
3 a.m. We also have a financial situation to look at, too.”
Walsh hopes that as realignment comes about, the Tigers will end up back in a region with old rivals such as Statesboro, the Effingham and Brunswick schools, Ware County and Wayne County.
“Most ADs, principals, and superintendents want to have closer region schools that will cut down on travel,” he said.
It’s important to note that the GHSA move to six classifications is not a done deal. There could be lawsuits against the measure.
“We are looking at the constitutionality of the vote and some other legal issues. It comes down to the fact that everyone deserves a fair opportunity, and some voted on the measure for what’s best for their own interests rather than the student-athletes of Georgia,” Etheridge said.
Editor’s note: How would Liberty County High School fare under the new classification scenario? While schools always can opt to play in a higher classification, it appears that Liberty, based on last year’s FTE count, would end up in Class AAA and compete in Region 2-AAA with Dodge County, Tattnall County, Pierce County, Brantley County, Southeast Bulloch, Appling County, Cook County and Johnson. Read more in a future issue of the Coastal Courier.
Jeff Whitten contributed to this story.