Seminole County head football coach Alan Ingram called it "great" that the GHSA decided to split Class A into two different divisions this week in Macon.
ALBANY — There’s a new day in Class A sports in Southwest Georgia, where small public schools were tired of playing powerhouse private schools from Atlanta and Savannah and other areas in the state playoffs.
Those days are over, thanks to a movement from Georgia’s smaller schools, which threatened to form their own league. Their fight for a more equal playing field ended Tuesday when the Georgia High School Association Executive Committee overwhelmingly voted to hold separate state playoffs and state championships for Class A public and private schools starting in 2012-2013.
“I think it’s a great thing for Georgia high schools and for the small schools in South Georgia,’’ Seminole County football coach Alan Ingram, who is a member of the GHSA Executive Committee, said Thursday. “It’s a good move. Everybody is happy, but there’s still work to be done.’’
The movement was started more than a year ago when Chad Davis, the principal at Wilcox County, grew tired of watching his teams have great records in the regular seasons only to lose to private schools in the postseason.
“Chad did some research and found that more than 90 percent of the state titles in the spring sports were won by private schools,’’ said Ingram, whose football team went 11-1 last year before losing in the Class A state quarterfinals to one of those private schools, Eagles Landing Christian Academy. “We were holding our own in football but that has changed in the last few years and now the private schools are winning there, too.’’
Davis and Roy Jordan, the superintendent at Turner County High, spearheaded the movement and in December 2009 a group of more than 30 coaches met in Rochelle to discuss their options.
“It was growing,’’ said Ingram, who was at that meeting. “We didn’t want to put a gun to anyone’s head, and we weren’t trying to get a lot of publicity, but we wanted something to be done.’’
So this past October, the GHSA Executive Committee voted 23-22 to approve a plan for separate championships in Class A in softball, baseball, golf and tennis, but then later turned around and took a second vote that killed the plan when 29 of the 44 voters said no to the idea, with one voter abstaining.
But the movement to leave the GHSA and form their own league reached its apex Monday night when the public schools met in Macon in a Georgia Public Schools Association meeting.
“When we left that meeting Monday, 44 schools were going to go to their boards and ask them to vote on leaving,’’ Ingram said. “I didn’t know on Tuesday that my board voted Monday night to leave.’’
It never came to that. On Tuesday the GHSA voted overwhelmingly (36 for, 12 against, 1 voter abstained) to form two separate competitions for Class A public and private schools.
“If you look at what’s happened it’s really a rural-city thing. I heard the folks in North Georgia were calling us the ‘Dirty 30,’ ” Ingram, who is the only member of the GHSA Executive Committee that is also a board member for the GPSA, said with a laugh.
“Over the years so many private schools have popped up in the Atlanta area. You could fill a grocery bag full of them up there,’’ he added. “And the population just grows and grows, and they can bring in kids from outside their area. They keep springing up. There are no new towns springing up in South Georgia. We play with what we have.
“I understand that the nature of a private school is to recruit and bring in students, but when you recruit athletes that’s a different thing. The laws are in place in the GHSA to stop recruiting, they’re just not being enforced.’’
The ripple effect has a tremendous impact in South Georgia, where there are 29 Class A public schools playing in Regions 1 through 4, including six local schools from Region 1-A.
No one is sure what effect the vote will have on GISA schools, many of who are members of the GISA but have left to compete in sports in the GHSA over the years.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen yet,’’ Gordy Gruhl, the longtime athletic director and boys basketball coach at Deerfield-Windsor, said Thursday. “I do know this: There’s a bunch of private schools that aren’t happy with the vote. I know for a fact some schools have contacted the GISA and inquired about coming back to play in the GISA. They are already members. It would be a small move to come back.’’
Several private schools have left GISA in recent years, which has diminished the number of competitive schools in the strictly-private-school association.
“We would obviously get bigger if that happened, which would be big for us if it happened,’’ Gruhl said. “We would like to be able to get bigger since our numbers have been dwindling. If a lot of schools come back it would be great for us.’’
Gruhl said that over the past year to two years he and others in the GISA have been concerned about the dwindling numbers, and for the first time talked about moving to the GHSA.
“There has been some talk about it, the last year, year and a half,’’ Gruhl said. “We’ve talked to Mount de Sales, Stratford and others about it. We have to have schools our size. There’s not enough schools our size.’’
Gruhl, who hopes the GISA grows from the GHSA fallout, said he wouldn’t rule out leaving GISA for the GHSA one day.
“We are going to keep our options open,’’ Gruhl said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out.’’