Richmond County couldn't have given Columbia County a better Christmas gift.
Our neighbors to the southeast threw a monkey wrench into the Georgia High School Association's region realignment plans, and the result was a present that Columbia County coaches received with open arms.
A few weeks ago, Lakeside High was preparing for a region with opponents in Brunswick, or maybe Macon or, at best, Atlanta.
Evans knew they were on the fast-track to becoming the smallest Class AAAAA school in the history of the state, and Harlem was convinced it would spend another two years competing for two football state playoff spots in a subregion with two football powerhouses.
That's when Richmond County came to the rescue.
Augusta schools apparently decided they were fed up with the increase in cost that comes with traveling and winning. So they appealed to the GHSA for every school in the county (including the Class AA schools such as Westside and Josey) to jump up to Class AAAA. That would allow Richmond Academy, the county's only true Class AAAA school, to remain in the same region as the rest of the schools.
Laney saw the ramifications of playing against schools at least three times as big as it was and jumped out of the deal, but the rest of the county jumped in.
Harlem got wind of the idea and quickly appealed to play up in Class AAAA, too.
The GHSA accepted the appeals, and now we have a Region 3-AAAA made up solely of 12 schools from Richmond and Columbia counties.
That's right. Lakeside had been preparing to travel the 200 miles to Brunswick, but now its longest region road trip will be to Hephzibah High School -- a whopping 22 miles away.
Harlem left Thomson and Washington County but kept Hephzibah, Butler, Cross Creek and Glenn Hills as region opponents. That's a trade-off good for at least a couple of state playoff seeds next year.
The Evans Knights, originally thinking they had the numbers for a Class AAAAA school, lucked out on a new rule from the GHSA that allows for a drop in the projected enrollment numbers if a new school will open nearby within the next two years.
That leaves Greenbrier out in the cold. The school is simply too big to dodge Class AAAAA status, and the team will hit the road for region games next year in or near Atlanta. Its closest region opponent, Newton High School, is 110 miles away. At least Newton went 1-9 in football this year.
Despite the bad news for Greenbrier, the rest of the county's athletic departments are throwing parties.
"It's the best region this school has been in in 20 years," Harlem athletic director Jimmie Lewis said.
The 12-team region includes John S. Davidson Fine Arts and A.R. Johnson -- two magnet schools with few sports teams to speak of. The reality is it's a 10-team region with an 11th team, the new Columbia County school, to join for the 2009-10 school year.
With 10 teams in the region next year, it will subdivide. If subdivision didn't happen, we'd have a problem. Imagine a baseball, softball, volleyball or basketball schedule with 18 required region games. That doesn't leave much room for a nonregion schedule.
Fortunately, it doesn't appear the region will subdivide for football. Harlem has dealt with that the past several years, with rotten results. It appears Harlem, Lakeside and Evans will all have a football schedule with nine region games.
Greenbrier only has seven region football opponents, so that leaves three nonregion games to schedule. It appears Lakeside, Evans and Harlem will fill those spots.
Why? The Evans/Greenbrier football game this year brought in ticket sales close to $24,000. No coach is going to give that up.
So here's to Richmond County. Thanks for the early Christmas gift. Without that last-minute move to Class AAAA, Columbia County schools would be all over the state. Now they'll just be all over you.
Let the rivalries begin.
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