Reclassification, player safety and transfer eligibility headlined the topics covered, as Swearngin stressed the importance of assessing the coming year’s results before exploring further changes in the landscape of high school athletics.
Swearngin, who oversees hardship appeals and the interpretation of GHSA rules, as well as the administration of football and gymnastics, stressed the inherent difficulty of the reclassification procedures in such a diverse state.
“It’s trying to design a one-size-fits-all Spandex bodysuit,” he said of the process. “In a state like Georgia, it is really difficult. We do not have equal population distributed around the state, and we have issues in some parts of the state that don’t affect others.”
In November, the GHSA’s reclassification committee released plans to realign schools into six classifications for the first time in an effort to alleviate the costs of excessive travel and missed class time for some schools. The committee used the enrollment numbers of students in grades 9-11 from the 2011-12 school year, as well as a sliding percentage rule to make adjustments for programs put at a disadvantage by their remote locations, to reclassify its member schools.
Swearngin described the solution as being a limited success.
“We didn’t have nearly as many isolated schools (as before),” he said. “We’re just always going to have one school here or there in the state that has a geographic isolation from other areas in their same region.”
The committee also split Class A into separate groups for public- and private-school pairings for some sports. Swearngin stressed the special challenges of that decision, which, in the case of some sports like basketball, will lead to four state champions across both genders.
“There still will be some hurt feelings,” he said. “We hope the healing’s begun, and we can work through it. (The public-private classification dispute) is not as bitter as it’s been in other states, so I’m pleased for that.”
On the topic of player safety, Swearngin expressed regret over the failure of House Bill 673, a state bill spearheaded in part by the GHSA and the Georgia Concussion Coalition that was designed to raise awareness and precautions for concussion-related injuries in youth sports. Swearngin said the GHSA would pursue “business as usual” on the concussion front after the bill was not passed this spring, but he went on to highlight the significance of recent steps taken to standardize the state’s heat safety policy and place increased regulations on summer practice.
All GHSA schools are now required to use readings from the wet-bulb globe temperature index for all outdoor activities, instead of the heat index, to determine the amount of time to be spent practicing.
Additionally, an acclimatization period has been instituted for all football players, who must practice for five days in helmets and shorts before being allowed to don full pads. If a player is injured during that time, he must complete the five days upon his return, even if the team has moved to practicing in pads.
Also, teams cannot hold preseason two-a-days on consecutive practice days. When two-a-days are employed, no practice can last more than three hours, and the day following is limited to one three-hour practice.
“We will be tweaking this as we go forward, but we remain committed to making sure that these programs, whether it be for heat or concussions or whatever, can reduce the risk of a problem as much as possible,” Swearngin said.
The transfer controversy was cast further into the light by the GHSA’s decision to force Shiloh High School to vacate its wins from the 2011 season after it was revealed that three ineligible players had followed newly hired head coach Brian Montgomery from his previous high school, North Atlanta.
Montgomery was removed as Shiloh’s coach soon after.
“A lot of people believe say the GHSA ought to do something and stop people from picking up their residence and moving it when they want to, but in a free country, that’s a little difficult to do,” Swearngin said. “I’ve found the school people are very mixed about this, depending on whether kids are coming into their school or leaving it.”
Swearngin admitted that the 2011-12 school year had been one of the organization’s most challenging, but that within those challenges lay an opportunity for reform around the state.
“One of the things that we get concerned about is that people are losing track of the democratic nature of high school athletics,” he said. “High school athletics should not be a business, and sometimes we see signs that it’s heading that way.”