Harlem's Jamie Nevin battles Greenbrier's Whitney Wise for the ball during a soccer game last season.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Going into the 2004 state playoffs, Harlem girls soccer coach George Berry felt like his team could contend for the state title.
And why not?
His team entered the postseason with the state's best record at 20-1, and was ranked second in the Class-AAA.
The optimism turned to anger after Lovett throttled the Lady Bulldogs 11-0.
The anger then turned to disbelief: the Lady Bulldogs also lost to the Lovett girls last season, 16-1.
"I would put my team up against any public school in the state," said Berry after the loss. "If that sounds like sour grapes, so be it."
Berry's team is just one of many public school teams that annually become play-toys for private school powerhouses during Georgia High School Association competition.
The Greenbrier boys soccer team suffered a similar fate when they fell to Woodward Academy, 7-0, in the second round of the playoffs. Woodward previously knocked off another public school, Bainbridge, 15-0.
"Sometimes you play some of these schools that don't have as strong of a program and you beat them bad," said Brooks Duff, a rising sophomore on the Greenbrier soccer team. "But then you play these strong Atlanta private schools and they do the same thing."
Former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy tried to curtail this domination in 2000, when he pushed for a five-classification system that would place all private schools in Class AAAAA. Many private schools argued that the state would have public and private school champions.
In an attempt to save some autonomy, the GHSA compromised and made private school enrollment count as one and a half times its size for classification purposes.
It didn't work.
Last fall's volleyball finals had six of eight schools competing from private schools.
Of the 10 team state champions in tennis, eight were private schools. The only two that were public schools, Chattahoochee and Walton, are in Class-AAAAA, which has fewer than five private schools. The same results could be found with cross country, and six of eight champs in soccer were private schools.
"The thing about private schools is that anyone can go to them," said Berry at a recent summer baseball league game. "Public schools have restrictions on who can go where with school boundaries, but anyone can go to a private school if they have the tuition to pay."
Whatever the case may be, the private schools topped the Georgia Director's Cup rankings in four classifications.
In Class AAAA, Marist and Woodward finished 1-2, and St. Pius X finished fifth. Greebrier and Lakeside would have finished fourth and fifth without private schools, but instead came in seventh and eighth, respectively.
"I am very pleased with our ranking," said Lakeside athletic director Randy Hill after the results were posted. "If you take away the private schools, we are right at the top."
In Class AAA, Westminster of Atlanta won the cup, and Lovett and Savannah Christian finished in the top 10. Blessed Trinity, Wesleyan, Greater Atlanta Christian and Darlington finished as the top four in Class AA, with the Walker School and Holy Innocents' in the top 10. Landmark Christian won the Class A title, and the rest of the top four were private.
Other than another Tom Murphy-esque attack on the GHSA, it seems that the status quo will remain.
"The only way something could be done would be to take out private schools from the GHSA," Berry said. "That can't be done in America, though, because of the freedom of choice."
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