When the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) released reclassification figures for 2020-2022 last week the assumptions immediately began. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, when it comes to the GHSA and reclassification it is wise to never assume anything. Appeals, waivers and just plain ole’ not following policy seem to often be the order of the day and this cycle of reclassification will likely be no different.
There was no surprise when Thomson High School showed up in Class AAA. With an enrollment of 1,007 students, down from a 10-year high of 1,182 in March of 2016, it was expected by those that pay attention that Thomson would drop out of Class AAAA. After entertaining appeals and requests to play up in classification, the GHSA will ultimately place schools in regions. That process won’t be official until the full 67-member executive committee ratifies the plan in January. Not until then can coaches put schedules into writing.
Going solely by the new numbers, Thomson “should be” in a new AAA region with Cross Creek, Harlem, Hephzibah and Westside-Augusta. Burke County, ARC and Baldwin remain in Class AAAA based on enrollment but who knows what their school administrations may attempt in an effort to play down or what the GHSA might do with Thomson, Cross Creek, Harlem, Hephzibah and Westside. The GHSA could choose to use an arbitrary isolation rule to keep these area schools in a single region regardless of their enrollment figures.
The GHSA is using a 2.0 multiplier for out-of-zone students. Cross Creek’s enrollment is 1,056, adjusted to 1,187, due to 131 out-of-zone students. Harlem reports one out-of-zone student out of an enrollment of 1,119. Hephzibah has 150 out-of-zone students for an adjusted total of 1,119. Westside would remain in Class AA if not for 76 out-of-zone students that puts their adjusted number at 941. Thomson has only three out-of-zone students.
In fairness to any school’s student-athletes and coaches, no school should be asked to compete for region and state championships against schools that significantly outnumber them in enrollment. Burke County has 1,230 actual students, including 39 out-of-zone students. Does 223 extra students give them a decided competitive advantage over Thomson? Of course, it gives them an advantage, but I’ll leave the question of to what degree up to you.
The largest Class AAA school by actual enrollment will be Salem of Conyers with a count of 1,184. That suggests to me the GHSA should not arbitrarily place Burke County and Thomson back into the same region, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t. I only bring that speculative scenario up because Burke County is the school that is consistently outperforming Thomson in all sports and claiming Region 3-AAAA championships along the way.
Since Thomson’s enrollment drop has put them into AAA, then that’s where they should compete. What it should not do is give the administration, athletic director and coaches a false sense of relief because the competition should be easier. That’s no way to run an athletic program and betting on the GHSA not to gerrymander regions absolutely is fool’s gold.
The best way to follow factual reclassification without the assumptions is at GHSA.net.
Gene Walker is a retired educator who lives in Thomson. His column, “Sports Talk,” appears in the weekly editions of The McDuffie Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.