There was an end of an athletic era last week in Columbia County.
Augusta Christian girls
basketball coach Keith Walton talks to his team during a time out against Westminster. AC hopes to keep some in-state rivals such as Westminster on schedule after moving to the South Carolina Independent School Association.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
When Westminster traveled to play Augusta Christian School on Tuesday, it marked the last time the basketball teams will compete as Region 4-AAA rivals at the Lions' Den.
For years, Westminster and Augusta Christian have squared off as members of the Georgia Independent School Association, but AC has decided to move to the South Carolina Independent School Association, effective June 1.
Instead of heated region battles with Westminster and Augusta Preparatory Day School, AC will head up Interstate 20 to compete in the SCISA's Columbia-based region next school year.
There's someone that's sad to see Augusta Christian go.
"It's a shame," said Tom Holodak, the athletic director at Augusta Prep. "I don't know if we'll lose the rivalry, but when we play them, the contests will lose what they might mean, as far as region standings."
Make that two disappointed people - at the very least.
"It hurts the GISA, and it hurts our region," Augusta Prep basketball coach Kevin Furtado said.
Bruce Lane also feels the pain. Augusta Christian's athletic director and head football coach has been associated with GISA for more than 25 years, as a player and coach.
For that reason, parting is sweet sorrow.
"It's difficult to see us no longer be associated with folks I've competed with for two-thirds of my life," Lane said. "It's going to be difficult for everybody, but by and large it's a good move for us."
Augusta Christian competes in the GISA's largest classification, and most of the state's Class AAA programs are in Macon and near Atlanta.
Lane's decision came down to logistics - had AC remained in the GISA, next football season the Lions would have traveled over 100 miles, one way, to all five road games.
Though the GISA's region alignments are different in football than in other sports, Augusta Christian's burden would have extended beyond the gridiron season.
"There was a tremendous amount of travel involved in all of our sports," Lane said. "It was a hardship for our athletes to travel, compete, and get ready for school the next day."
Augusta Christian has been accepted provisionally as a SCISA member, with a vote on final approval in May.
Lane is excited about seeing some new competition, but he plans to keep old rivalries intact.
"We hope to be able to continue our relationship with Westminster, Augusta Prep, Curtis, and other local schools," he said. "Evans and Lakeside still have a rivalry, even though they haven't been in the same classification for a few years. I'm sure when our kids tip off in basketball, or throw the first pitch in baseball, there will still be a rivalry with local teams. And this (switch to the SCISA) may even add to the rivalry."
With AC set to bolt, the GISA will be forced to reshuffle its region realignments for the 2004-05 school year.
For sports other than football, the current GISA realignment had Augusta Christian, John Milledge, Westminster and Augusta Prep together in one region, but that plan likely is out the window.
"I'm sure there will have to be a realignment for our region now, because with Augusta Christian leaving, we can't have a three-school region for some sports," Holodak said. "In some ways, (AC's move) is costly for Westminster and us, too."
The GISA will have to reshuffle the region, but in any event, it seems certain that Augusta Prep and Westminster will lose AC as a region foe, and Augusta Christian will reduce its travel woes.
However, with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
"With Augusta Christian leaving, we'll lose some region games," Holodak said. "If we're going to pick up additional games (to fill out schedules), where are they? That means we'll have to travel."
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