GHSA approves Class A public/private split in soccer, volleyball

No Class A public school in Georgia has won a state championship in soccer or volleyball. 

Help is on the way.

There will be separate public and private champions in both sports beginning in 2018-19, the Georgia High School Association’s executive committee voted unanimously on Monday in Macon. The move was hastened in part by pressure from the General Assembly.

The GHSA has crowned separate private and public champions in almost every Class A sport since the 2012-13 school year, but volleyball and soccer were holdouts because of lower participation among those smaller public schools. 

Beginning next spring, soccer will have separate Class A private and public champions. 

‘’I am very happy with the move as it falls in alignment with all of the other high school sports teams in Class A,’’ said Claxton boys soccer coach Steven Wilkie, whose team is one the strongest among Class A public schools this season. 

“As it is currently, the private schools across the state have vastly greater resources to build their programs,’’ Wilkie said. “Also in the past several years no public school has made it past the first round of the state playoffs. Even though my team is competitive with the Savannah private schools – I am in the minority – I am happy that the move is happening as it will give more schools and players the opportunity to experience the next level of play.’’ 

Public-school soccer teams were 1-12 in the Class A tournament in 2017. (Georgia Military College got the lone victory.) There are 33 Class A public schools that field soccer teams.

Public-school volleyball teams were 0-4 in their state tournament.

The change in volleyball will be similar. There still are not enough Class A public-school volleyball teams (18 last fall) to have a meaningful Class A public-private split, so the GHSA voted to combine AA and A into AA/A, but with separate public and private champions. 

Because there are no private schools in Class AA beginning in 2018, the net effect is that Class A public schools will compete with the AA public schools instead of the Class A private schools. 

That should give the public schools a fighting chance to advance at state. 

No public school below Class AAA had won a volleyball state title until a year after the 2016 reclassification moved all private schools out of Class AA except for one, St. Vincent’s of Savannah. Despite that private exodus, St. Vincent’s won the 2016 title, continuing the private-school dominance. 

This past season, Coosa of Floyd County defeated St. Vincent’s in the final to become the first public-school champion below AAA. St. Vincent’s will be in AAA next season.

Calvary Day, a private school in Savannah, won Class A. 

The GHSA’s move was influenced by Senate Bill 456, which called for separate public and private playoffs for high schools with an enrollment of fewer than 640 students. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). His district includes Gordon Lee, one of the four public schools that made the Class A volleyball playoffs.

Gordon Lee coach Tricia Goodwin said she was ‘’thrilled’’ at the decision. Her team was 33-12 last season, with wins over several larger public schools, but was knocked out in the first round by private-school Landmark Christian.

“This is something that is long overdue,’’ Goodwin said. “The competitive nature of the Atlanta private schools has always made it a challenge for our public schools to compete at the state level. I am excited about the upcoming season and what we might be able to accomplish. There is some really great competition with the merger of the 2A and 1A schools, and we are planning on working hard and doing what Gordon Lee does to compete at the highest level.’’

The only GHSA sport that will continue with a combined Class A championship is wrestling, which for the past 18 seasons has been won by a public school, the last five by Commerce.

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