I've been calling Central's football games on the radio since 1986. I've said names like Charlie Ward Jr., Johnny Cooksey, Joe Burns, Raytorrie Newkirk, Erik Walden, Debrale Smiley, Ray Drew and Adam Choice I don't know how many times, and been very proud to do so.
But I have to admit — the last few years of travelling all over this state to play region football games have been hard.
I ain't as young as I was a moment ago.
Every couple of years, the Georgia High School Association takes the enrollment of public high schools and determines which classification they will each compete in by dividing the schools up percentage-wise based on enrollment. There are six classes in Georgia, with AAAAAA being the biggest schools (some with well over 3,000 students) and A the smallest.
Central has always been kind of an odd-man out size-wise. For the last dozen or so years, deemed too big to play in AAAA with geographically close schools like Cairo and the Albany schools, but too small to play in AAAAAA with the likes of Colquitt County and Lowndes County (both with nearly twice as many students as Central), the Yellow Jackets have been relegated to play in class AAAAA.
The problem with that? There are few AAAAA schools south of Macon. This has meant playing region games all the way from Harris County above Columbus to Warner Robins to Waycross.
Essentially, to play these region games, our kids have had to leave school at lunchtime, travel more than 250 miles round trip and get back home well after midnight. Not only has this been tough on the kids, but the fuel costs involved for buses have been astronomical — not even mentioning the costs of feeding all the kids two meals on the road as well as hiring substitute teachers for accompanying coaches and teachers.
Remember, this isn't the playoffs we are talking about — this is region competition.
Two years ago, we thought we had numbers to finally squeeze into AAAA. But out of the blue, the GHSA “adjusted” the percentages used to determine the classes and Central suddenly became the smallest AAAAA school in the state.
This year, with Bishop Hall accounting for a larger percentage of its students, Thomas County Central has fewer students than it has had in a while. Based on how it was done a couple of years ago, we all breathed a sigh of relief knowing we’d finally be classified to play close to home against AAAA schools.
But the GHSA inexplicably redid its percentages yet again, for no apparent reason, and Central was again relegated to travel all over the state as a AAAAA team — fewer than 30 students over the “newly” defined dividing line.
The school protested. We have parents of senior players in several sports who have never attended an out-of-town game outside of Bainbridge because of the time and travel costs required. Basically, we said enough was enough.
In its own bylaws, the GHSA allows classification concessions for schools that have to travel more than 100 miles for region games. They call it “isolation” status. Central pointed out that its average travel for region games would easily exceed that figure.
So, in its infinite wisdom, the GHSA decreed that based on its geographic isolation Central would indeed be granted “isolation status” and be allowed to compete as a AAAA school — in every sport except football that is, still forced to play in AAAAA.
This means the Yellow Jackets will have at least four — again, four — trips to Columbus or further for region contests (the region now stretches from Lagrange (seriously) through Columbus down through Bainbridge).
So much for conserving fuel costs for our taxpayers.
At the same time, Richmond Hill, Effingham County and Evans high schools, all near Savannah, have numbers placing them in AAAAAA. Each of them requested isolated status to be able to play down in AAAAA, citing extreme travel as their main motivation. And in turn, each of them was granted isolation, only this time in every sport INCLUDING football — even though each of those schools are less isolated and further above the number lines than Central.
Apparently, application of the GHSA bylaws is good enough for certain schools but not good enough for ours. Personally, I think an explanation from someone is owed to our county and our kids.
And remember, football is the only real revenue-generating sport, and money from it pays for many of the other sports in the school system. Not once in the six years that we have played schools from Columbus have any of their home crowds filled the stands to more than 1/3 capacity. The number of fans following their teams here can normally be counted on two hands, and because the contests are normally anything but competitive, even the home fans stay home.
Essentially, this arrangement has the potential to crush the spirit of what may be the proudest athletic product our community has produced in a generation, and eventually harm every other athletic program in Thomas County.
Some will argue that Central just wants to compete in a lower class to have a better chance to win — why not just play up a class?, which is allowed by the GHSA. As the smallest school in class AAAAA with just over 1,400 students, as a AAAAAA school, Central would be competing against the likes of Lowndes, which has more than 2,800 students.
As an example, AAAAAA Norcross this year had nearly 70 seniors on its team. Central had just over 80 players in all.
And, in region meetings where important decisions are made concerning rules and such, would Central be a AAAA or AAAAA participant? Every year, the governor awards trophies to schools in each class that achieve at the highest levels . Would Central be a AAAA or AAAAA school?
There are more than 400 public high schools in Georgia. Three of them (Central, Bainbridge, and Camden County) are being forced to comply with this madness.
This issue is way bigger than who we are or aren’t playing. Our community cannot help how many people live here. We can’t control how many students attend our school. Times are hard for schools and every penny — as well as every hour in the classroom — is too important to be wasted over something this petty.
Central is a handful of students above the new “line” and, as a result of some kind of stubbornness or agenda somewhere, our kids will again miss all kinds of time out of class travelling all over the state for region games, as we have for now for more than a decade — and all on your tax dollars. It’s enough to make an old radio guy wonder if all the road miles are worth it.
If you, too, feel it is time for this lunacy to end, you need to say so. Our local GHSA representatives are Todd Mobley from Thomasville and Wayne Tootle from Cairo; or you can email board member Earl Etheridge at email@example.com or send a letter to
Georgia High School Association
Attn: Earl Etheridge
P. O. Box 271
Thomaston, GA 30286-0004