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Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Public-private ‘split’ remains divisive alternative

Private schools historically have lobbied hard against having separate public and private championships.

In 2016, they went along with the GHSA's 3-percent rule that effectively bumped the eight largest private schools into higher classifications. That was to avert a potential alternative - a public-private divide that might've had those eight schools playing in a league of their own, as Class A has done. 

But now, at least a couple of private-school coaches are thinking a public-private split wouldn't be so bad. 

Speaking off the record, one private-school football coach spoke out about an Aug. 14 article in GHSF Daily that showed 15 prominent offseason transfers, all major college recruits, in what is a fast-growing trend. All 15 had transferred to public schools. 

"With all of the transfers being public-school kids, why do we and other private schools have to continue and play up a classification?" the coach said. "Totally unfair, as we cannot and have never recruited anyone because of our academic constraints. The rule has to change." 

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The coach then pointed to the increasing number of non-region games that the largest private schools are playing against each other. This season, the nine private schools playing above Class A [including Pace Academy, which chose on its own to play up] are playing 24 of their 34 non-region games against other private schools. 

"It is very difficult to get similar-type public schools to play us," the coach said. "I am ready to divide public-private. We're almost there right now. I know several other private coaches feel the same way." 

The coach's main point was to question why larger private schools are forced into higher classifications given the higher incidence of transfers to public schools, but his openness to a public-private split was the more startling assertion. 

Those words will probably elicit a big hooray among dozens of middling-to-smaller public schools that would love to see an end to private-school dominance in classes AAAA and AAA, where the larger private schools - Marist, Woodward Academy, St. Pius, Blessed Trinity, Greater Atlanta Christian, Westminster, Lovett, Benedictine and Pace - currently reside. Those schools have won 32 of the 72 state titles in those two classifications over the past two academic years. 

But most private-school coaches and administrators want to continue playing for state titles with public schools. GHSF Daily reached out to a few of them. Most talked on the record but are not identified to protect the identities of the others. 

"I assure you it's not the prevailing attitude of the majority of private-school coaches and ADs," one football head coach said. "A public-private split would be a disaster for both." 

Said another private-school football coach, "I am not in favor of private-schools state playoffs in all sports. [We have] a long and rich tradition competing against public schools throughout the state, and to lose that connection would further alienate the division between public and private schools." 

A third coach agreed. "I respectfully disagree with my esteemed colleague who suggests that there be a split between the larger private schools with our public schools," he said. "We are adamant about staying with the public schools in all of our athletic competition. I would not be in favor of a 'Big Nine' championship [of the biggest private schools]. We have great relationships with our public-school members and have had some great healthy rivalries during my time here." 

Then another coach told GHSF Daily off the record that he would support moving private schools to even higher classifications if that meant keeping public and private schools together. 

"I think moving the larger private and city schools up two classifications would go a long way to solving the issue," the coach said. "The exception would be Class A, which seems to work well due to the large number of small private schools. My private school and city school comrades would shoot me for saying that, but I think it would work." 

By city schools, the coach meant Buford, Rome, Cartersville, Jefferson, Carrollton, Calhoun and others that have open enrollment that many see as a major competitive advantage. 

The GHSA sought to move both city and private schools to higher classifications with the 2016 3-percent rule - if a school gets 3 percent of its enrollment from outside its county, it must play in a higher class - but the attempted solution failed to catch all the targeted fish. There were threats of litigation. 

In fact, only three city schools were caught in the net, and two - Jefferson and Bremen - since have been released back into the pond. Only Buford remains up in class. 

Meanwhile, all eight private schools have been moved up now that Benedictine has joined AAA this year.. 

That's what the private-school coach is most concerned about - the rule that pushes private schools up. "It's not so much that I want a split," he said, "but there is no reason for us to have to play up a classification." 

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