By Brian Paglia
To calm the reclassification process and allow rivalries to develop, the Georgia High School Association approved a four-year cycle for reclassification, starting with the 2010-11 school year, at its spring meeting this past Monday.
So far, it's garnered support from many in the Southern Crescent high school sports community.
"I think it's a good idea," Henry County schools athletic director Justin White said. "Reclassification is a very difficult process. From a school's standpoint, now I can build some consistency in scheduling and don't have to go looking for games every year."
A year ago, the GHSA went through its two-year ritual of maneuvering nearly 400 high schools between five classifications divided into eight regions. If the new process had been in affect, only 12 schools would have been reclassified, according to White, a member of the GHSA's Executive Committee.
"If we had had this in place last time, we would've had only 12 schools impacted," White said. "Nobody enjoys reclassification. There are so many factors, from geography, travel expenses to time out of class."
Discontent coaches had begun calling for change years ago. Many were tired of their team being shuffled between classifications and regions by the GHSA every two years. Just as they became accustomed to their region competition, it shifted, and the chess game of scheduling non-region contests started before it was over.
"Two years is too short a time," Brannon said. "It's not enough time to establish rivalries with out-of-county teams.
"Say with the Henry County teams. If we were with them two years and we get something going and there's a fan interest and a community interest, all of a sudden they're gone. I think it's advantageous in that respect."
Brannon said coaches began clamoring for change four or five years ago, but the GHSA wanted to avoid making a cursory decision.
"The GHSA, and I guess most governmental bodies, is like lava slowly going down hill," Brannon said. "Are we ever going to get to the bottom? But I guess there are advantages and disadvantages of spending a long time making a decision. You're not going to get a knee-jerk reaction."
Reclassification before this season ended a few long-standing school rivalries that had managed to survive region fluctuations.
Gone was the Eagle's Landing-Henry County football rivalry when the Warhawks dropped from Class AAA to Class AA. Though both teams suffered through long spells of disappointing seasons, they relished meeting one another once a year for bragging rights.
Gone was the pivotal rivalry between Riverdale and Jonesboro basketball when the Raiders jumped from Class AAAA to Class AAAAA. That both teams often featured exciting talent, that both often came in state-ranked, that the outcome could determine playoff seeding, only heightened the anticipation of their meeting.
The GHSA and coaches hope the new reclassification process allows similar rivalries to develop.
"That was the motivator behind the change," White said.
Still, some, like Henry County football coach Mike Rozier, appreciate the new teams they encounter every two years and the change of pace it offers.
Henry County began this decade in Region 4-AAAAA, traveling to meet teams in cities like Sharpsburg, Evans and Fayetteville. Now, the Warhawks compete in Region 4-AA, playing in new destinations like Macon, Eatonton, Greensboro and Monticello.
"I kind of like the two years where you don't get bored and pick another school the next two years," Rozier said.
The only concern coaches expressed, White said, was the impact new schools would have. Some worried a new school would sap their enrollment, leaving them in a larger classification than their school population reflected. But the GHSA allowed for schools that gain or lose more than 20 percent of its enrollment to move up or down in classification in the middle of the four-year cycle.
That was enough to bring everyone on board.
"Once coaches knew there was a process to move, they felt much better," White said. "I have not heard anybody that disagrees."