By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
For those who chatter about Class A public school champions having a “tainted title” due to this year’s separation of public and private schools in post season competition, forgive those schools and athletes for totally ignoring you.
They are too busy admiring their reflection in the shiny, silver championship trophies they earned Saturday in Macon, on the grounds of the Georgia Children’s Home.
For the first time, Saturday in Macon, on the grounds of the Georgia Children’s Home, the Georgia High School Association awarded four Class A cross country state championships instead of two – public and private school boys and girls team and individual winners. The new system is the result of a vehement protest earlier this year by several Class A public schools that contend that private schools, particularly those in large metro areas, have a distinct advantage in that they are allowed to recruit students and have greater access to key resources.
In the public school races, Georgia Military College in Milledgeville won the boys team title with four runners finishing in the top 20, led by Will Archer who placed third. The individual champion was Baconton Charter senior Bryton Wenzel. Towns County won the girls team championship with five runners in the top 20, including junior Ansley Vardeman, the individual state champion, and her twin sister Taylor Vardeman, who placed sixth.
On the private school side, Landmark Christian won their second consecutive girls title, the War Eagles’ sixth since 2003, as Kathryn Foreman and Lindy Long finished first and second, respectively. Athens Academy won their first boys cross country team title, as three Spartans placed in the top 20, including Henry Dwyer, who finished fourth. Galloway sophomore Reilly Friedman won the individual crown with a course-record time of 15:50.
“The focus needs to be on these kids who just want to have a chance to run and compete,” said Towns head coach Jeannie Ledford. “As a public school we have to coach who comes through the door. These girls gave it their all, public or private. The focus should be on them.”
Vardeman said she likes the big-time atmosphere in Carrollton, where the championships traditionally take place. The other classifications will run there next weekend. She also likes competing against her private school counterparts.
“But I like this [winning], too,” she said, after posting a time of 21:34, a little less than a minute faster than second place finisher Elizabeth Savage of GMC. “We can’t control who was here. We were going to compete no matter who was here.”
“I think the [public-private] split was great,” said GMC assistant coach Jeff Crain. “These guys worked so hard and were so focused. They came and competed today and earned everything they got.”
Meanwhile, most private school runners and coaches said they would rather have been in Carrollton, even Friedman, who set the course record on Saturday.
“I’m really happy with it, but I prefer Carrollton because everybody else is there,” Friedman said. Athens Academy head coach Tom Pee agreed.
“All things being equal, Carrollton is where you have the championship environment with everyone there competing and cheering each other on,” said Pee, who added that if 14 races is too many for one day, the GHSA should consider making the state championships a two-day event in Carrollton.
“I told our guys to not let where we’re running diminish their focus and effort,” Pee said. “They came out and ran as hard as they could and did what they had to do.”
PUBLC SCHOOL BOYS
1. Bryton Wenzel, Baconton Charter (17:34)
2. Mark Brannen, Jenkins County (18:06)
3. Will Archer, Georgia Military College (18:15)
4. Hayden Bailey, Lincoln County (18:33)
5. Robert Bledsoe, Irwin County (18:34)
1. Georgia Military College
2. Jenkins County
3. Baconton Charter
PUBLIC SCHOOL GIRLS
1. Ansley Vardeman, Towns County (21:34)
2. Elizabeth Savage, Georgia Military College (22:28)
3. Caitlin Sheffield, Towns County (22:40)
4. Sierra Nichols, Towns County (22:49)
5. Crystal Lee, Trion (23:11)
1. Towns County
2. Gordon Lee
4. Georgia Military College
PRIVATE SCHOOL BOYS
1. Reilly Friedman, Galloway (15:50)
2. Joey Carr, Mt. Paran Christian (16:24)
3. John Raville, Our Lady of Mercy (16:26)
4. Henry Dwyer, Athens Academy (16:34)
5. Robby Keough, Whitefield Academy (16:35)
1. Athens Academy
3. Landmark Christian
4. Mt. Pisgah Christian
PRIVATE SCHOOL GIRLS
1. Kathryn Foreman, Landmark Christian (18:18)
2. Lindy Long, Landmark Christian (18:40)
3. Tayler Tuttle, Providence Christian (18:46)
4. Stephanie Murphy, Hebron Christian (19:38)
5. Shannon Fair, Aquinas (19:42)
1. Landmark Christian
2. Providence Christian
4. Mt. Pisgah Christian
5. Pace Academy