Big Time Realignment
It's an ongoing story in the world of big time college athletics- realignment. Schools from coast to coast moving from conference to conference- all in search of the right fit.
Now in Georgia high school athletics, there's reclassification. Every two years, the GHSA places schools in classes by size to find the right fit. Normally, an expected routine of high school athletics. This time around, a change in the classes could change Southwest Georgia.
Reclassification. The Georgia High School Association does it every two years. The GHSA moves and shakes schools based on enrollment, so what's the big deal this time? The addition of another class.
"We've never had six. I started coaching it was four classifications then we went to five and now we're at six...it's going to be a new experience," Dougherty County Athletic Director Johnny Seabrooks said.
Due to continuous growth, some regions in the northern part of the state have ballooned to fourteen teams. The GHSA has been forced to make changes to level the playing field. However, this new addition may not help Southwest Georgia. A sixth class spreads South Georgia schools into even thinner regions.
"I'm not going to say that they've been unfair to South Georgia, but I guess it's kind of like the house of representatives there are more schools in the north than there are in the south," Lee County Athletic Director Rob Williams said.
"We're here we have no growth, so what has worked for us in the past continues to work because there's basically been no growth factor. (North Georgia) they have some issues and they're legit," Seabrooks added.
GHSA spokesman Steve Figueroa says it's still too early in the process to predict how this reclassification will settle. However, one point of interest that has not come up in the past is the committee's ability to "fudge some of the numbers for this two year period."
Figueroa used the example of 4A Lee County, if the Trojans were within a certain percentage of the 5A line. For the first time ever, the team could be bumped up to make a more complete 5A- Region 1.
"There was a day when we were in a region with Crisp County, with the four Albany schools and with Worth County. I don't think we'll ever get back to those days...sometimes I wish we were," Williams said.
The road becomes longer and tougher for Lee County, but another concern is the Trojan's rivalries becoming more distant.
"Our closest region rival is an hour and twenty minutes from usâ|Thomas County Central...Bainbridge about an hour and twenty minutes. If we lost those two, now you know you're looking at two hours for your nearest rival," Williams said.
A four-plus hour bus trip is not only mind-numbing for the athletes about to play, but also causes concern for academics.
"It does affect us with travel and getting out of school...having to miss school timeâ|our kids are student athletes...student's first and then athletes second," Williams said.
"That's our main priority to make sure our student athlete stays athletically eligible," Seabrooks said.
Longer travel may mean less time for academics, but it can also translate to fewer fans at the games and fewer available dollars in the athletic budget. The main source of athletic funding stems from fans in the seats.
"What kind of fan base you're going to have when you're going there, and on the opposite endâ|what kind of fan base and support are you going to have when they come here? When you look at athletic budgets...attendance is down all over the country.
One thing is sure to stay constant in the world of Georgia high school athletics- life in region one will stay as difficult as ever.
"We're in (region) one. 1-A to 1-5A to 1-6A...the competition level will be the same across the board with a lot of these sports, so that won't matter. I mean you got to play," Seabrooks said.