ALBANY — Albany High didn’t just move up in the GHSA’s new six classification format, the Indians leaped all the way from Class AA to Class AAAA and landed right smack in the middle of all their city rivals.
“We might be the only school in the state to do that,’’ said Albany High athletic director Archie Chatmon, who added that he felt he made the only sane move he could for his school.
Albany High was prepared to make the natural move to Class AAA, but when the Indians arrived there wasn’t much competition — at least not close by.
The new plan, which divides Georgia high schools into six classes instead of five, is tailored for the big schools in the Atlanta area. By the time the format reached Southwest Georgia, there were some serious holes in it.
“There were only four AAA schools left in this area: Albany High, Dougherty, Worth County and Cook County,’’ Dougherty County Director of Athletics Johnny Seabrooks said Tuesday.
Worth County, meanwhile, decided to move up to AAAA with the rest of the teams that now make up Region 1-AAA, and once Worth made the move, Chatmon said it just made sense to go up and join Region 1-AAAA, which means all four county schools — Monroe, Westover, Dougherty and Albany High — will now play in the same region.
“Once Worth decided to go up, we went up (to AAAA),’’ Chatmon said. “I was told if we had not gone up that we would be playing over in the Dodge County area, and the travel would have had a big effect on us. The biggest is the time the kids would be missing in school, leaving the classroom so early for the trips.’’
Instead, Albany will now be playing in the same region with Monroe, Westover, Dougherty, Worth County, Cairo, Crisp County and Americus-Sumter.
“We played in the same region with (the Albany city schools) for years,’’ Chatmon said. “I was upset when we went to AA in the ’90s and weren’t in the same region. We play each other any way. It’s what we’re used to.
“If we would have stayed it would have been so far away from the teams in the region. You would have felt like you were on an island. You would have been so far away from your competitors you wouldn’t even be able to get a life line if you were in trouble,’’ joked Chatmon.
Chatmon said he understood why Worth County wanted to stay with the group, because it appeared Worth would be playing in a AAA classification with schools from Columbus.
“I don’t blame them,’’ Chatmon said of Worth County. (Staying in Class AAA) would have killed them.’’
Worth athletic director Russell Beard met with his principal and school superintendent Monday and they came to the decision.
“We didn’t know what they were going to do with us,’’ Beard said of the new AAA region. “It was just the smart thing for us to stay (with the Region 1-AAA teams that moved to AAAA). It just didn’t make any sense (to stay in 1-AAA). All of us came to an agreement that it was the best thing for us to (go to AAAA). We Googled the distance from downtown Sylvester to downtown Columbus and it was 108 miles.’’
The GHSA doesn’t allow schools to travel more than 100 miles on a weekday, and Worth’s baseball, softball and basketball teams would have had to schedule all the region games on the weekend.
“We know we are competitive in either (AAA or AAAA),’’ Beard said. “It just made sense for us to (go to AAAA).’’
Dougherty would have stayed at Class AAA, but when Worth and Albany moved up, the GHSA decided to move Dougherty with them.
“The GHSA invoked the isolation rule for Dougherty to move (to AAAA),’’ Seabrooks said. “Dougherty was going to be in AAA, but there was no one in the area for them to play.
Otherwise, the new format barely affected teams in Southwest Georgia. Lee County and Bainbridge simply moved to Region 1-AAAAA, but they are now in a smaller region with only six teams, including Hardaway, Harris County, Northside, Columbus and Thomas County Central — and Lee and Bainbridge no longer have to play football powerhouses Northside, Warner Robins and Northside, Warner Robins. The region is split into sub regions with Lee County, Bainbridge and Thomas County central making up the south sub-region.
“It’s a little better for us football-wise,’’ Lee County athletic director Rob Williams said. “And it should cut down on some trips, because we are in a smaller region so hopefully we can play more non-region games closer to home. But you still have to travel. South Georgia is difficult. There’s going to be road trips.’’
Early County stayed in Region 1-AA, and has a new rival as Pelham moved from Region 1-A to Region 1-AA and joins Early, Fitzgerald, Brooks County, Thomasville, Atkinson County, Berrien and Cook, which stayed in Class AA.
Region 1-A stayed intact, but like all the new regions, Region 1-A is split into two sub regions. Calhoun County, Quitman County, Randolph-Clay, Stewart County, Terrell County and Webster County are in the north, while Baconton Charter, Baker County, Miller County, Mitchell County and Seminole County are in the south.