ATLANTA - A small group of Evans High School parents and boosters converged on a legislative subcommitteeMarch 6, voicing their support for a local representative's bill that would limit athletic travel.
The parents argued long-distance trips are keeping athletes on the bus and out of their classes for excessive amounts of time, causing them to sometimes fall behind on school work.
"Keep in mind, students are getting home at 1 a.m., after getting to school the previous day at 7:30 in the morning," said Dale Sickles, the president of the Evans High School Athletic Boosters.
Sickles' son, Bradley, is a 16-year-old junior on Evans High School's soccer team. Sickles said his son didn't arrive home from a recent game against an Atlanta school until after 2 a.m.
House Bill 1123 - authored by Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez - would limit travel to 200 miles round trip per game.
"We've got to do something because it's obvious the Georgia High School Association is not going to do anything to permanently fix this problem," Harbin said.
The bill is a result of the recent battles between Evans supporters and the GHSA over an isolation policy - a proposal that would allow schools to change classifications, up or down, if athletes faced long trips to games.
In Evans' case, the school was reclassified as 4-AAAAA - which consists of suburban-Atlanta schools - for 2000-01. That forced Evans' athletic teams to travel an average of 320.6 miles to road contests, resulting in travel expenditures increasing from $6,000 to $54,000 during the first year in the region.
Over the summer, the school was moved to Region 7-AAAAA - saving some travel time, but still requiring more than 200 miles per trip.
In early November, GHSA representatives killed an isolation rule request. Then, later that month, the principals and athletic directors from other Region 7-AAAAA schools agreed to a plan that significantly cut travel distances for the Evans' athletic program during the 2002-03 season.
Evans' teams will travel to play Region 7-AAAAA opponents only 12 times - four each in football, basketball and baseball. The region will be subdivided in baseball, and depending on where Evans is placed, the Knights may travel only three times in that sport.
Evans basketball coach Kevin Kenny said his teams have traveled to Atlanta 17 times in the past two years.
"That's more traveling than some college teams do," he said. "The travel wears on kids. Through the course of the season, they're in school all day and then get back at 2 a.m. - eventually, it's going to catch up with you."
GHSA president Ralph Swearngin is asking lawmakers not to support Harbin's bill.
"It would just fly in the face of classifying schools based on student size," he said. "It defeats the whole purpose."
Harbin said Evans' current game schedule, as set by the GHSA, doesn't allow athletes the full high-school experience.
"At some point, they're going to have to choose between academics and athletics," Harbin said.
Swearngin said a new state law is not necessary, arguing that the GHSA can solve travel-related problems on an individual-school basis.
Sickles, however, said he no longer believes the GHSA will ease Evans' travel woes.
"If I had confidence, I wouldn't be here," he said.
Several legislators at the hearing also expressed doubt as to whether the GHSA should be allowed to remedy the situation.
"This is ridiculous," said Rep. Penny Houston, D-Nashville. "We ought to just go ahead and pass a law."
Rep. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, said he knows of multiple schools in his middle Georgia district that travel more than 200 miles for their road games.
"I got a lot of moms that have already called me about this, and they're right. This is a problem," he said.
Evans High School athletic director and head football coach Lee Chomskis said while his school is getting the bulk of the local benefit now, it won't be too long before other area schools fall into the travel trap.
"Lakeside and Greenbrier could be 5A next time they (GHSA) count (do reclassifications based on student population in schools)," he said. "Then we would have three schools that would have to travel, and you'll just see the problem magnified."
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