By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
It’s Year One for the new world order of post season competition in Class A, where public schools and private schools compete for separate championships. Softball finished last week with Gordon Lee, the two-time defending champions, winning the public school title and Mt. Pisgah Christian of Johns Creek taking the private school crown.
Now cross country steps into the divided spotlight. The boys and girls, public and private school championships will be decided on the grounds of the Georgia Children’s Home in Macon on Saturday.
Cross country had been one of the sports highlighted by proponents of the split, who believe private schools hold a competitive advantage over public schools primarily due to their ability to recruit students. The last year that a cross country championship was won by a public school was 1976, when Jefferson won the boys title and now-defunct Crestwood in Alpharetta won the girls’. Last year, Pelham — now in Class AA — was the highest finishing public school in the boys competition, placing 13th, while Bremen – also now in AA – finished highest on the girls’ side, also at No. 13.
With this year’s split champions, on the girls’ side, Towns County, which placed 18th last season, has a strong chance of winning the team championship with four runners ranked in the top 10 among public schools, led by junior Ansley Vardeman. Gordon Lee in Chickamauga and Trion, led by Crystal Lee, the top-ranked runner going into the competition, should be in the mix as well.
Among the public school boys teams, Georgia Military College Prep in Milledgeville, Gordon Lee and Baconton Charter are the front runners. Baconton senior Bryton Wenzel finished 21st last season, highest among public school runners.
Landmark Christian, last year’s girls champions, is back to defend its title, led by freshman Kathryn Foreman, the top-ranked runner going into the finals. Pushing the War Eagles will be Pace Academy, Darlington and First Presbyterian, which will be without three-time individual champion Grace Tinkey, who is one of the top runners in the nation. An injury will keep her out of the competition this year.
Wesleyan, which won the last three boys team titles, moved up to Class AA. A number of squads look to take over the top spot on Saturday, including Athens Academy, Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, Darlington, Pace Academy, Landmark and Galloway, whose top runner, sophomore Reilly Friedman is the favorite to win the individual crown. He’ll be challenged by Athens Academy senior Henry Dwyer and Pace junior Josh Rogers.
What: 2012 Class A Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday, Nov. 3
Where: Georgia Children’s Home, 4690 North Mumford Road, Macon, GA
Schedule: Public school boys run at 9 a.m.; Public school girls run at 9:45 a.m.; Private school boys run at 10:30 a.m.; Private school girls run at 11:15 a.m.