Gary Phillips was approved Wednesday as the new executive director of the Georgia High School Association. The assistant executive director since 2001, Phillips will replace the retiring Ralph Swearngin on July 1.
“Dr. Swearngin is a good steward, so I don’t think you’ll see an earth-shattering change in the GHSA,’’ Phillips said. “Something that I learned as a principal was fix the hiccups, and for those things that work good, make sure they stay that way.’’
Phillips said some of the bigger issues he expected to face in the next academic year included reclassification of the GHSA’s 448 member schools, the public-private debate and increasing allegations of illegal recruiting of student-athletes.
Phillips said that the board of trustees brought up the issue of recruiting in his interview. Phillips said the hiring this past summer of Carror Wright, an associate director whose responsibilities are compliance and investigations, was a sign that the GHSA is committed to addressing those concerns.
“I think we’ve always had some concern for issues like recruiting,’’ Phillips said, “but we’ve had to balance that with other priorities and didn’t have a specific officer in the association where that was his primary task, taking these charges that we get from time to time, deciding what’s valid and what’s not.’’
Phillips said the move in 2012 to six classifications from five and the separation of Class A into public and private divisions produced favorable results for many schools. The change led to seven state champions in many sports, instead of five.
“We had schools in both the public and private settings that experienced success last year that say those successes created an enthusiasm in their schools that they might not have had,’’ Phillips said. “From what I saw from the reclassification committee, they felt like the results were good enough that we need to continue this for at least another two years. Then we can make a long-term decision.’’
Phillips said the GHSA remains open to changes in classifying private schools or other schools that get large numbers of students from outside their districts or service areas. Private schools have dominated all-sports trophies for years. Member schools also have expressed concern about city schools with open enrollments such as Buford, Gainesville and Jefferson that won multiple state titles in the 2012-13 academic year.
Phillips will be the GHSA’s fifth executive director. Before Swearngin, the others were Tommy Guillebeau (1992-2000), Bill Fordham (1982-91) and Sam Burke (1946-81). All have been promoted from within the organization, so Phillips’ promotion was no surprise.
Phillips was principal of Fayette County High School for 15 years before coming to the GHSA 12 years ago. Phillips had been a football coach at Fayette County, West Rome, Central of Macon and Johnson County. Phillips’ 1979 Johnson County team, led by Herschel Walker, won a state championship.
Swearngin became the GHSA’s executive director in 2001. He had served the GHSA since 1992, originally as commissioner of officials and deputy director.
The GHSA’s executive committee approved the recommendation of Phillips by a 52-0 vote. Six members were absent.