Reclassification: Mid-cycle adjustment produces few changes

(AJC)

The Georgia High School Association’s classification adjustment is about to come and go with little change in regions and classes for the state’s more than 450 member schools.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some head-scratching, though.

For example, Mays (1,534 students) will be in a higher classification than Rome (1,865 students).

How can that happen?

The GHSA two years ago voted to conduct full reclassification every four years instead of the traditional two that had been in place for decades. Only those schools with exceptional changes in their student populations are subject to change. Fewer than 10 schools will be affected for the 2018-19 school year. Under the old rules, dozens of schools would have been reclassified.

“What we’re going through now is not a reclassification but a mid-cycle adjustment,” GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines said. “The goal is to deal with those new schools that are opening and those that have had drastic growth. We’ll let it run its course and then let the board of trustees and the executive committee make an assessment on how things went.”

The GHSA’s rationale for the four-year model is that it fosters rivalries and eases the burden that reclassification imposes. Sports schedules and contracts are much easier to make when regions remain the same for four years. Reclassification every two years also taxes the GHSA office, its executive committee and the separate appeals and reclassification committees that support them.

The problems with sudden growth or decrease in school enrollment also existed in the two-year cycle. They are only more pronounced over four years.

Mays and Rome are perfect-storm examples of reclassification outcomes that the GHSA probably didn’t want but realized were inevitable.

Mays’ enrollment, which was at the low end of Class AAAAAA during the reclassification of 2015, has gone down 11.9 percent. Rome’s enrollment, at the high end of AAAAA in 2015, has risen 8.8 percent. The GHSA’s bylaws under the four-year model require a 20-percent change to be considered for reclassification.

So Mays will stay put despite enrollment that would rank 27th-highest in the next class below. Rome will stay put despite enrollment that would rank 29th in the classification above.

As it stands, only six football-playing schools will be moving. Going up will be Jonesboro, Dougherty, Harlem and Benedictine. Going down will be Flowery Branch and Morrow.

Rome and Mays are hardly alone. They are just high-profile examples. And Mays is not complaining.  Atlanta City Schools athletics director Jasper Jewell declined to comment because he said Mays and another Atlanta school in a similar situation, Carver, prefer their current classifications. Mays football coach Niketa Battle confirmed that.

“For the level of competition, it will always be in the school’s best interest to play up a classification,” Battle said. “I’m definitely not saying 5A is not as competitive as 6A. I’m simply saying within the metro area, you have better competition in 6A.”

The most striking example of a school out of place is probably going to be Mount Zion, a Clayton County school that saw its enrollment drop 18.7 percent. Mount Zion must remain in AAAAAA despite 1,273 students. The largest AAAAAA school, Alpharetta, has nearly twice as many students – 2,233.

There are many other interesting cases for different reasons. Kennesaw Mountain is going to stay in the highest classification with 2,063 students while archrival Harrison gets to stay in the class below with 2,206. Both west Cobb County schools have good sports programs, but Kennesaw Mountain has never made the playoffs in football while Harrison just won a region title.

It would seem logical to have them trade places – putting Harrison (now the 43rd-largest school in the state) up in 3-AAAAAAA with the likes of Cobb neighbors McEachern and North Cobb and letting Kennesaw Mountain (the 56th-largest) take Harrison’s place in 6-AAAAAA. There will be eight schools larger than Kennesaw Mountain in a lower class next year.

Another school that likely would move up in a two-year cycle is Richmond Hill, a southeast Georgia school that grew 8.9 percent since two years ago and is now the 47th-largest school in the state. Currently, the top 48 from 2015 are in the highest classification.

Richmond Hill wouldn’t want this, but putting the Wildcats in the highest class would give Region 1 five schools (instead of four), which means another playoff berth, and would give isolated Camden County a closer region opponent for all sports. Richmond Hill’s enrollment of 2,168 is closer to Region 1-AAAAAAA Tift County’s 2,208 than to Region 2-AAAAAA Glynn Academy’s 1,960.

None of those scenarios is going to happen, even though reclassification isn’t done. Schools may appeal their enrollment numbers today, and the GHSA’s reclassification committee will hear appeals Nov. 27.

The four-year framework and the 20-percent rule are in the books, for now.

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