When the dust settled on the 2008-09 school year high school sports fans in Georgia looked up to see that every state championship in GHSA Class A except one was won by a private school. Only Warren County's boys' track championship prevented a clean sweep by private schools among the state's small schools.
Not only did private schools take home the heavy hardware in Class A, they won six of eight region all-sports championships and took 14 of the top 15 spots in the statewide all-sports rankings. Providence Christian Academy also won the state championship in gymnastics, a sport that does not compete by classification. This means they beat out schools all the way up through the AAAAA level.
This domination made coaches and fans in small town Georgia sit up and say, "Whoa, wait a minute, something ain't right." It has to be more than a coincidence that public schools suddenly can win only one sports championship and amazingly Lincoln County's title in literary and Trion's cheerleading championship.
Various media outlets such as The Athens Banner-Herald, the Georgia High School Football Daily e-newsletter and the Georgia Varsity Sports Vent certainly took notice of this domination and the debate was on. Do private schools now have an inherent advantage since the GHSA dropped the 1.5 multiplier rule? In other words, are private schools recruiting yet controlling their enrollment numbers too?
Except maybe in football, we are well aware that one or two blue-chip athletes can indeed carry a team a long way in many sports, especially among schools with less than 500 students. Think of the basketball player that's good for an automatic 25 points every game or the baseball pitcher that strikes out double digits out of 21 outs every other game. Add these to a group of above average players who aren't bad athletes themselves and what do you have?
A kid that has been trained by professionals since age six in individual sports like golf and tennis can really dominate at the local and regional level. Put him or her on a team with three or four others with similar training and they certainly should be favored to win a Class A state championship. Especially when these kids enjoy everyday access to the links and courts right out their front doors.
Today's metro Atlanta private schools aren't the same creatures as the 1970s era academies that sprang up throughout rural Georgia. The ultra affluent people that organize and run these schools are thinking about two things. What is the best way for my kid to get ahead in life and how can I control it? Money is no object as the old saying goes and neither is competing against public school kids.
Common sense tells these parents that their child will get more exposure to college scouts by competing in the GHSA. Common sense tells these schools' board of director's that financing an athletic program and publicizing their school will be much easier in the GHSA. They don't mind their kid playing with one from the other side of the tracks if it means getting what they want.
So the immediate question is what does the GHSA do to "protect" small town Georgia. The long-range question is what happens when this private school dominance starts creeping its way up into Class AA and ultimately AAA. Should public schools put up some kind of fight or just accept the inevitable?
The answer to this question will be a tough one. Regardless of what is best for the kids, the answer will, as it always does, boil down to money. As more private schools join the GHSA and gain more control of its governance, they won't handicap themselves with overly strict regulations to create a level playing field. Besides, they already consider everything to be fair.
Public schools will ultimately look at the sheer volume of private schools in the GHSA and realize they can't function without the money that these institutions and their supporters bring to the table. The small-town, rural Georgia lobby on the GHSA board will never be strong enough to sway opinion otherwise.
I expect this debate, along with the one concerning the handful of city school systems also having an athletic advantage, to rage on. The hard fact is a school that can draw from an area of 100,000 people in any pocket of metro Atlanta, Savannah, Macon or Columbus will have an advantage over counties like Lincoln, Warren, and Wilkes and eventually even McDuffie.
No amount of screaming and shouting over the rulebook will ever change this advantage.
We may have to accept that a public school state championship will become the exception rather than the rule. For many, that will be a tough pill to swallow.