Evans High School athletes and coaches finally see a light at the end of the tunnel - and, at last, it isnt from a high school association train bearing down on them.
Bowing to pressure from state lawmakers, the Georgia High School Associations executive board voted this past week to return to a four-classification system for high school sports, replacing class AAAAA with a Big 32 class reserved for the states 32 largest schools.
While the proposal still has to be finalized at the GHSAs spring meeting - and while it wont take effect for two years - its a big relief for Evans High.
Well probably get to play local schools like Cross Creek, Greenbrier, Butler, says Evans football coach Lee Chomskis. That would be wonderful.
Sports classifications, in a nutshell, are based on school population sizes: The bigger the school, the higher the classification. The basic idea is that when schools compete for regional titles, they do so against other teams from schools of comparable size.
Two years ago, in a politically charged attempt to revamp the athletic system, the GHSA added the AAAAA classification for the states biggest schools. Evans, which is the Augusta areas largest high school, landed in the top class - but all other local schools fell far under the AAAAA population threshold.
he change meant a couple of things, both of them bad: With Evans competing in a faraway region, other area schools lost a key component of their traditional region rivalries; and, Evans athletes were hit with the burden of long-distance travel to play region foes in the Macon or Atlanta area.
Columbia County officials tackled the issue and found it unfeasible to shave enough population from Evans High by rezoning its students to the countys other three high schools. The only Band-Aid solution was to give the school extra money to pay for greater travel expenses, and to work with region rivals to modestly minimize the number of long-distance games.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, lobbied fellow lawmakers to approve legislation to force the GHSA to adopt an isolation policy that would provide relief to the handful of individual schools that, like Evans, are forced into far-flung regions.
The GHSA balked at the isolation rule, but nonetheless its leadership saw the handwriting on the wall: Take the isolated schools concerns seriously, or lawmakers would, for the first time, force the Legislatures will directly on the private athletic agency.
The pending rule change should take the heat off the GHSA as much as it relieves Evans and other isolated schools. Hopefully weve got it fixed, and this will take care of Columbia County and Evans, Harbin says. If the GHSA rule change gets final approval, lawmakers likely will let the matter drop rather than take it up again next session.
By the time the rule goes into effect, Columbia County should be well on its way toward planning a fifth high school, one that will provide population relief from most, if not all, of the countys public high schools. The Big 32 rule, however, will help - at least, as long the countys schools remain smaller than No. 32 on the list.
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