The Georgia High School Association delivered a blow to Evans High School on Monday in Forsyth.. The GHSA executive committee voted 33-13 against adding an isolation policy to the constitution.
An isolation rule could have allowed Evans to play in a lower classification during the 2002-03 school year. Instead, Evans will remain in Class AAAAA, and its athletic teams will be required to compete in Region 7, which consists of Atlanta-area schools.
"Somebody told me when they got here that they knew how the committee was going to vote," Evans Principal Don Brigdon said after the decision. "Nothing we had to say made an impact on anybody."
During its fall meeting, the GHSA voted 36-9 to approve isolation as a topic for discussion; the policy was presented for a final vote at Monday's called meeting.
The prevailing sentiment was clear before the vote.
"Allowing a school to play down is ridiculous," executive committee member Robert Davis said to another GHSA official.
That comment came before opponents of isolation presented their case to the committee Monday morning.
"This is a Columbia County problem, not a GHSA problem. As such, it should not warrant a change in our constitution," Burke County Principal Chris Henry said.
Statesboro High School Principal Dale Wilkinson followed by saying, "An isolation policy would adversely affect fairness and integrity, in our opinion. What's fair? We need to watch out for what's best for the majority of our kids. When we start allowing schools to play down, we're defeating what this organization is all about."
Henry and Wilkinson each had a stake in the situation - if isolation had been approved, Evans would have asked to join Region 3-AAAA, which features Burke County and Statesboro.
Evans High's case was argued by Brigdon, Evans athletic booster President Dale Sickles and Columbia County School Board member Lee Muns.
They detailed the problems the Evans athletic program has faced since the school moved up to Class AAAAA before the 2000-01 school year and entered Region 4-AAAAA, which consists of Atlanta-area schools.
"Our concern here is not about competition; not at all," Brigdon said. "We're not looking for a competitive advantage. We're looking for help for our students so they're not penalized simply because we live 130-plus miles from our region."
As the executive committee prepared to take the binding tally, GSHA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin was asked to comment on isolation.
Dr. Swearngin ended any doubts about the outcome of the vote.
"I must confess I was a little more naive than I thought. I had forgotten, I guess, how much competitive issues drive our system," he said. "Isolation was thought of as a solution to a particular problem, but I think it is increasingly clear that a competitive advantage is there. A concern is whether the cure is worse than the disease."
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