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Area GHSA AAAA football coaches weigh in on Northside drama

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

Should Northside, Warner Robins be allowed to play in Class AAAA next season?

Northside, the state football runner-up in AAAAA, is scheduled to drop to AAAA next year, but the school's recent enrollment projections say Northeast should still be in AAAAA.

If the Georgia High School Association doesn't reverse the re-classification, Northside will line up in Region 1-AAAA competing against smaller schools, which affects Lee County and Bainbridge locally. Americus-Sumter, which was in Class AAAA last year, drops to AAA this coming season.

"The bottom line is a mistake has been made and we have a chance to correct it. It's fair. It's the right thing to do,'' said Bainbridge football coach Ed Pilcher, whose team would have to compete against Northside. "I'm disappointed they haven't done anything yet.''

Here's where the confusion begins.

Northside originally projected a drop in enrollment because a new high school -- Veterans High School -- is opening in the fall, but a recent look at enrollment projections would keep Northside in AAAAA.

The Houston County school board projected in its rezoning plan in October the enrollment at about 1,800, which dropped Northside to Class AAAA.

The GHSA completed the reclassifications in mid-January, but on Jan. 28 the Houston County board of education passed a new rezoning plan, estimating the average enrollment during the next three years at 1,994.

The cutoff for Class AAAAA is 1,900.

The GHSA issued a statement this week declaring it might not be able to correct the problem, and Northside could possibly be allowed to play in AAAA with a AAAAA enrollment.

"As far as I can see, there are no provisions in the by-laws to re-do the reclassification," GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin said in the association's football newsletter. "We are waiting on a ruling from the GHSA legal counsel about possible options."

Swearngin stressed the GHSA has not made a decision to pursue any action on the Northside case. The association is researching its legal options, if any. Northside's projected enrollment now is larger than three of the five schools that it left behind in Region 1-AAAAA: Coffee, Tift County and Valdosta.

Northside's drop in classification directly affects Lee County and Bainbridge, which would be forced to compete against one of the state's top AAAAA football programs, for the Region 1-AAAA title.

"I've talked to coaches all over the state, and it seems everybody feels the same way, that you should be placed where you are supposed to be placed, and in this situation their numbers place them in AAAAA,'' Lee County football coach Dean Fabrizio said. "I don't think anyone did anything to circumvent the rule, but the fact of the matter is that schools are placed in divisions based on their size. It's going to get resolved one way or the other. I feel confident the GHSA will do the right thing.''

Pilcher sees no other resolution.

"We can make this right. If (Ralph Swearngin) wants to make it right, he can do it,'' Pilcher said. "If he can't, there are other avenues. There is an appeals process, and we would definitely look into that. The bottom line is we need to make this right.''

Pilcher said it was like 1999 all over again.

"We had a much bigger problem in 1999 when we had to go from four classes to five classes and we didn't have any time to do it," the Bearcats coach said. "We were putting together schedules in May. But we did it. We have to correct it. It's not like the mistake was made in July. We have time to correct it.''

Northside contends there isn't a problem.

"Those numbers are going to fluctuate," Northside athletics director Conrad Nix told The Macon Telegraph in a story last week. "They're projections. It's hard to hit that number on the head. Plus, we didn't know what rezoning would look like when those numbers were sent in."

Nix also told The Telegraph that he believed Northside's full-time count was 1,898 as of Feb. 4. He said the school has added approximately 45 students since those projections were sent to the GHSA in October.

"I think we'll hover around that 1,850 to 1,900 number," Nix said. "That's the bad thing when you work with projections. It's hard to guess."

While there was some concern initially that more than one school was facing the same issue, the GHSA newsletter cleared the air, saying "the new projections on Warner Robins (1,886) and Houston County (1,654) are consistent with their newly assigned classifications for 2010."