The Georgia High School Association over the past few years has tinkered with the classifications of sports teams more than a 2-year-old with a new toy. Much of it has been with good reason: School populations don't all grow at the same rate, so the GHSA tries to keep teams of similar size in competitive regions.
But the GHSA panicked a couple of years ago when the Georgia Legislature threatened to intervene in the competition classification system. The GHSA - a private organization that oversees school competitions - added a larger, fifth level of classifications.
Class AAAAA is composed of only the largest schools in the state. But because the biggest schools are few and far between, the change meant significant travel time for Evans High, Columbia County's largest school.
Fortunately, after rough on-the-road schedules, Evans will play closer to home next year: The newest GHSA tinkering puts Evans, Lakeside and Greenbrier high schools in the same region in AAAA, which means local rivalries in the next two years will decide not just bragging rights, but possible playoff status. And while long-distance travel isn't entirely eliminated, there's less of it.
It's a good outcome to an unexpected kick in the pants. Columbia County coaches and athletic directors were so confident of favorable action from a GHSA executive committee meeting Oct. 13 that the county didn't send a representative. Our schools then got stuck with more difficult region setups, an outcome Lin-coln County High School Athletic Director Larry Campbell blamed on local officials' absence.
Fortunately, the GHSA turned things around at a later session, giving a more favorable region setup for the county's three biggest high schools. The news is less rosy for the county's smallest school: Harlem, which barely makes the region AAA population threshold, is stuck in a region with bigger, perpetually stronger schools, and is bitten by the travel bug as it must play Savannah-area teams.
The latest tinkering, while it does have problems, at least appears to be the last word for the next two years, starting with football season next year. Meanwhile, the time for Columbia County residents to come out to support their local high school football teams is running out: Friday's schedule, as sports editor Mike Howell notes in today's issue, signals the end of the regular season, and just one team has hopes of playoff action.
It's never too late to root for the home team - even if you've waited until Friday night.
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