Private schools are becoming so prevalent and powerful in Georgia’s Class A that the GHSA is now split into public and private divisions in its smallest classification.
The trend is gaining momentum this year as two prominent members of the Georgia Independent School Association are considering jumping to the Georgia High School Association.
One GISA member, Mount de Sales of Macon, has already made the move effective in 2014-15.
Now, Tattnall Square and Stratford Academy, also of Macon, are considering joining now that arch-rivals Mount de Sales and former GISA rival First Presbyterian Day School of Macon will no longer be GISA members. First Presbyterian joined the GHSA in 2010 and reached the Class A private football quarterfinals in 2012.
As many as 11 GISA schools have moved to the GHSA over the past decade including 2012 football state champion Eagle’s Landing Christian and the current No. 1-ranked Class A boys basketball team, North Cobb Christian.
But football powerhouses Tattnall Square and Stratford Academy would be the most significant GISA schools to join if they make that decision. Tattnall has won 11 state titles, including GISA’s Class AAA in 2011. Stratford has won eight. Macon is considered the epicenter of GISA, whose first executive director was Statford’s headmaster in 1969.
Stratford recently hired as its new football coach Mark Farriba, who led Prince Avenue Christian to the GHSA Class A private school championship game last season. Though Stratford is Farriba’s alma mater, one wonders if Farriba would return there if its future was in the GISA.
Tattnall Square’s former coach is Barney Hester, GISA’s all-time most winning coach with more than 300 victories. Hester made the jump to the GHSA himself, taking the head job at Howard of Macon, a public school.
Another middle Georgia school, Westfield of Perry, decided last month to remain in the GISA.
The migration of GISA schools to GHSA is helping fuel the growth of private schools into Georgia’s smallest classification, Class A. For the 2012 football season, there were 42 public and 32 private schools in Class A.
In 1997, there were only 11 private schools playing football in the smallest class.
By GHSA bylaws, GHSA schools are not allowed to compete against GISA schools. The GHSA considered changing that policy last fall, but the proposal failed to get traction. That was a disappointment to Statford headmaster Robert Vito.
‘’If you’re stuck only being able to play members of your own organization, you may be driving past a school in your neighborhood that would be a natural rival,” Vito told Adam Ragusea of GPB News in September. ‘’You would draw a nice gate, save travel money, save time, your students wouldn’t be out of class as long.”
There also is the belief by some that playing in the GHSA provides more exposure, credibility, competition and opportunity for athletes to play at the next level.
According to research by Steve Slay, there were 116 college football players in 2012 from the GHSA’s 32 private football-playing schools in Class A. There were 52 former GISA players on college rosters in 2012. But while there are more GISA football teams than GHSA private Class A football teams, the GHSA’s Class A schools are larger on average, which might account for their success in sending players to college football.
GISA is an association of private, independent and parochial schools. It has more than 100 members, including the GHSA’s Marist and Westminster, but only 74 compete in sports, and 45 field football teams.
GISA’s origins date to 1969. It originally was called the Georgia Association of Independent Schools. GAIS merged with the Southeastern Association of Independent Schools (SEAIS) in 1986 to become GISA.
The GHSA’s deadline to apply for membership is April 1.