GHSA numbers grow as GISA schools arrive

Craig Moore had seen enough.

It seemed like every year, First Presbyterian Day School's football coach and athletic director watched as more teams abandoned the Georgia Independent School Association. With numbers dwindling as schools repeatedly were lured by the much larger Georgia High School Association, he knew First Presbyterian, located in Macon, had to make a decision.

So one of the GISA's more successful programs -- 273 victories, two state titles and 12 region titles -- followed many of its brethren by joining the GHSA -- which consists of public schools -- for the 2010 season. The list is long: George Walton Academy (Monroe), Strong Rock Christian (Locust Grove), Pinecrest Academy (Cumming) and Kings Ridge Christian (Alpharetta).

After 38 years in the private-school association spent developing rivalries, making friends and establishing a program, it was a monumental change for Moore. But he couldn't watch the GISA fall apart around him and stand pat.

"I think it had been discussed for years," Moore said. "Obviously, it was a very big decision and one we did not take lightly or make very quickly. There were growing concerns about the number of higher-classification schools in the GISA.

"We watched a concerning pattern re-occur over a period of several years, and that was fairly good-sized schools staying for a little while, and then, as their numbers grew, they would depart for the Georgia High School Association."

In recent years, plenty of schools have made that sort of quick stay in GISA.

Pinecrest was there for six years. Strong Rock played two full GISA schedules. Mount Pisgah played two years in GISA before moving to the GHSA in 2005. Riverside Military stayed five seasons, Fellowship Christian one.

Moore saw this happen, saw the league getting smaller and realized one thing was becoming clear.

"Those who left the GISA and went to the GHSA just were never coming back," Moore said. "People have mistaken what we're saying about the competitive nature of the GISA. People are twisting our words, like we're saying it's not competitive enough. That's just not true."

They'll have a chance to help show just how competitive when they take the field this season in what generally is considered the deeper and more challenging GHSA. First Presbyterian would not be the first team to do well in their first year in the GHSA. Riverside Military (2008), Eagle's Landing Christian (2004) and Savannah Christian (1988) all finished better than .500 and made the playoffs.

While improving on its 9-3 record could be a tall order for First Presbyterian, whatever stigma might be attached to GISA doesn't appear to be following the Vikings. Most people who have followed the GHSA's Class A football and the GISA expect them to do well.

Former First Presbyterian coach and current Prince Avenue coach Mark Farriba said the difference between the GHSA and the GISA is in the numbers.

"It just depends on who you're playing," said Farriba, who coached the Vikings from 1985-90 and 1992-96 and has coached in the GHSA since 2007. "In the GISA, you would have games where there were certain teams that were really good. The very best teams are comparable to the best teams in the GHSA. The issue is you're going to run into more good teams in the GHSA than you do in the GISA."

Moore said his FPD players are ready to be the first to make a big leap.

"They know something different is coming; they do," Moore said. "Finally, it is right around the corner. That, in and of itself, will put an extra hop in your step. They understand it's a little different.

"I don't think they're overly concerned with doing something historic. I think they feel privileged to be a part of it and obviously want to do well."