Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Class A coaches see private schools as title threat

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It is happening right before our eyes in the Class A football playoffs.

Lincoln County football coach Larry Campbell (center) contends private schools are overpowering Class A public schools. "One of the GHSA people said the only people who complain are the people in Class A, the people they're beating," he said. "I said, well, naturally the only people complaining are the people they're beating. That's common sense."  Michael Holahan/File
Michael Holahan/File
Lincoln County football coach Larry Campbell (center) contends private schools are overpowering Class A public schools. "One of the GHSA people said the only people who complain are the people in Class A, the people they're beating," he said. "I said, well, naturally the only people complaining are the people they're beating. That's common sense."

Warren County got steamrolled last week by Wesleyan. Washington-Wilkes got annihilated by Eagles Landing Christian.

Now Lincoln County has to travel to Darlington's 400-acre campus in Rome, Ga., tonight and face a 10-1 Tigers team with a roster representing seven states and three foreign countries.

It is a scenario Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell has been forecasting for years -- the eventual extinction of public school state champions at the Class A level.

"Coach Campbell told me four years ago that single-A athletics were about to be taken over by the private schools," Washington-Wilkes football coach and athletic director Lee Hutto said.

"He was right. It's not just football. Look at basketball and baseball, and it's a trend throughout Class A athletics. It tends to be more of those Atlanta-area private schools that have such a large group of kids that they can choose from."

Since the Georgia High School Association got rid of the 1.5 multiplier (of school enrollment to determine classifications) for private schools two years ago, the trend is getting more pronounced. Private schools from the more densely populated areas of Georgia with no district restrictions on where they can draw students from are dominating the state's smallest classification.

What advantages they already have in reach are magnified by multimillion dollar capital campaign endowments that make them equal to some small colleges.

How can small-town programs compete when they can't use taxpayer money on athletics and rely almost exclusively on football gate receipts?

"We're the ones that are suffering," Hutto said of his Class A brethren. "The days of Lincoln County and Washington-Wilkes and towns like that winning state championships, I don't know if you're going to see a lot of that anymore just because of the impact private schools are having in GHSA."

Campbell has been preaching that disparity for years to no avail since former statehouse speaker Tom Murphy from Bremen is not around to defend the smallest schools. It was Murphy who got the multiplier enacted only to have it disappear after his death in 2007.

"It's really falling on deaf ears now because the only classification it really affects is Class A," Campbell said. "Most of the (private) schools that were AA moved down and have taken over Class A."

Count GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin among the hard of hearing on this subject. Even presented with numbers such as 15 of 17 Class A titles being won by private schools in the first season that the multiplier was eliminated, Swearngin was unfazed.

"I wasn't aware of that," said Swearngin, who said the multiplier was eliminated after a study by public and private administrators found that it didn't work. He doesn't believe the balance of power has shifted to the private schools in Class A.

"I think it's about the same as it's always been," he said. "Two years doesn't make a trend. There are very few schools that are like Lincoln County and Charlton County that are year in and year out always strong. I don't think it's time to push any kind of panic button because for the last couple of years one school pops up and another school pops up that are private."

That attitude baffles Class A coaches.

"I don't really understand why they don't see it as a problem," Hutto said. "If you go to Wesleyan or Darlington and see the facilities those places have and compare them to a Washington-Wilkes or Lincoln County or Warren County, there's just no comparison. The playing field is just not level."

It's a simple concept to understand. One look at Darlington's roster illustrates the point. The Tigers have kids from Chapel Hill, N.C.; Brooklyn and Jamaica, N.Y.; Maysville, Ky.; New Bedford, Mass.; Upland, Calif.; and New Orleans as well as the Bahamas, Jamaica and two players from Germany. Its roster base also spreads from the Atlanta suburbs to Savannah, Ga.

"How can that be fair to the public schools that open their doors to the 400 or so kids who happen to live there?" Campbell said.

Campbell understands that disparity has always existed at the lowest level where tiny communities like Glascock County have to try to stay afloat against relative behemoths such as Lincoln, Charlton and Wilkes counties. His Red Devils have been at the top of the Class A food chain, winning a record 14 state titles in the past 50 years. So when Campbell complains about schools having a favorable advantage, critics are quick to call him a hypocrite and crybaby.

Campbell doesn't care. He doesn't expect to be coaching when the next reclassification rolls around, but he still stands up for those who will continue the uphill fight after he retires.

"For those who want to make light of it and say we're whining, well that's exactly what we're doing," he said. "One of the GHSA people said the only people who complain are the people in Class A, the people they're beating. I said well naturally the only people complaining are the people they're beating. That's common sense."

Many Class A coaches are quick to point out that not all private schools are created equal. Aquinas and Athens Academy aren't building themselves into athletic factories like Wesleyan, Eagles Landing, Savannah Christian and Darlington. Others such as Marist choose to play above their classification level.

But Campbell and Hutto believe if something such as a multiplier isn't implemented, Georgia might follow the lead of neighboring states South Carolina and Tennessee and adopt some kind of split system between public and private. Nobody wants that.

"I don't think you should punish Aquinas or Athens Academy who are doing it the right way," Hutto said. "But something has to be done to protect your small-town schools. It concerns me that GHSA is just sweeping it under the rug like we're not a concern of theirs."

Six of the 16 remaining schools in the Class A playoffs are private schools, and Campbell expects that percentage to go up with each successive round. But he'll try to keep his Red Devils from bowing out a third consecutive season to a private power.

"We're going to put our pads on and go up there and give them the best game that we can give them, but that is not eliminating the problem," Campbell said. "We all play to try to win some championships in the end and we all want to have an equal shot."

Those days for the smallest public schools might be numbered. "It's only going to get worse, because I think you're going to see more schools leave the GISA and join the GHSA," Hutto said. " I think it's going to come to a point where you won't have a public school win a state championship in Class A."

That point might have already arrived.

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wildman
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wildman 11/19/10 - 04:31 am
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Please stop whinning Larry,

Please stop whinning Larry, you've had plenty to gloat about over the years.

kate A
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kate A 11/19/10 - 07:01 am
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Gee, you only start

Gee, you only start complaining when you're losing to Wesleyan in football. No complaints when we dominate in basketball, track, etc.
We won in those sports when we were in AA, too ... so basically the only whine is that being in A allows us to win in football.

joebowles
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joebowles 11/19/10 - 07:08 am
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Gee, I can't wait to hear the

Gee, I can't wait to hear the crying this spring with Aquinas' babseball, golf and soccer teams being too good.

MrPotatoHead
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MrPotatoHead 11/19/10 - 07:18 am
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Why continue to support poor

Why continue to support poor performers. Let the Class A schools voluntarily privatize. Issue vouchers with the money not spent on public Class A schools. Let families exercise the "private school" choice of selecting a school that meets their needs and does a good job. In those schools, academics and athletics would be free to improve to private school levels and would have the incentive to do so.

johnston.cliff
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johnston.cliff 11/19/10 - 07:36 am
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The split system is the only

The split system is the only defense if athletics is one of the primary goals of the Class A schools. If private schools are offering scholarships to national and international athletes, they should be in a different class than the schools that don't. If, however, the athletes are choosing Darlington and paying their own way, they shouldn't be punished because they have money.
Campbell and the other coaches seem to be whining, but may have a viable beef. They need to stop the politically correct pussyfooting and call a spade a spade.

SouthernPride
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SouthernPride 11/19/10 - 07:58 am
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Mark my words, the days of

Mark my words, the days of the private schools in Class A will be over soon. The wheels are already in motion behind the scenes and there is not one coach in all of Georgia who is aware of it. This will come like a tidal wave and hit the private schools right in the gut like a 9 pound hammer.

You heard it here first.

SouthernPride
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SouthernPride 11/19/10 - 08:20 am
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Hey Joe Bowles, 49-6!

Hey Joe Bowles,

49-6!

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 11/19/10 - 09:02 am
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Just to clarify, Coach

Just to clarify, Coach Campbell was "complaining" about the public/private imbalance in sports other than football long before this story was written. That Wesleyan was already dominant at the Class AA level before dropping back to Class A only further illustrates the advantages some private schools have.
And for the record, private schools have long been dominant in golf, tennis and a few other sports like soccer and cross country. That's a socio-economic discussion for another day.

gutdawg
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gutdawg 11/19/10 - 09:34 am
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Mr. Bowles, I doubt you will

Mr. Bowles, I doubt you will hear anyone complain about Aquinas. They don't recruit players like some of these schools do. We expect Aquinas to do well in those sports because as Scott said those are sports where family economics come into play. This is not just at the single A level, but other levels as well. Look at Buford in AA all of their sports. Find out how many of those kids actually live in the area. Very few do if you really look at it. I only hope that Southern Pride is right but includes all classifications.

CoastalDawg
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CoastalDawg 11/19/10 - 10:34 am
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It's all a matter of

It's all a matter of priorities and how those in charge of monies choose to spend that money. Money talks, always has, always WILL but it also comes down to who gets the job of head coach. Many public school coaches are paid more that same position in private schools when teaching (a requirement in public school I believe) pay is also considered. Coach Campbell is a prime example of a man called to do his job and dedicated to having his athletes perform at the highest level. Whether or not private schools should be allowed to participate in the public high school programs is a matter of debate; the private schools of which I have knowledge would all deny "recruiting" students for athletic ability but those in the know are in the know. Years ago emphasis was on the public schools; schools in various divisions were powerhouses, Valdosta being the #1 school in the country at one point and Lincoln County has been a strong team throughout the years and have produced some NFL players. Facilities are a problem for certain so if parents of public school children believe in that importance they need to be certain that school members act on their behalf. A football team in Savannah had to use what could almost be classified as a closet for their locker room for years. Facilities don't MAKE the team but certainly can enhance training. I can point to one particular point in the history of public schools in which there was a turning point; some would argue that I am wrong but the results speak for themselves and that is when schools began to "dumb down" the whole for the benefit of some students. That has happened in the classrooms with some teachers not even able to speak the king's English correctly and wanting EACH student to be just like every other student, not sensible in any stretch. The same began to happen with school athletics; PE programs were eliminated and perennially popular sports died at many levels, particularly football which was eliminated from elementary and then middle schools in many areas. Now all of that has caught up with us and the Larry Campbells which have seen it coming are crying and I don't say that in any manner of disrespect; nobody listened and now it's upon us. Deal with it or make the change to correct it...

doublebogey
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doublebogey 11/19/10 - 01:19 pm
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With regard to allegation

With regard to allegation that Darlington is a serial offender in the world of football recruiting, I suggest you consider the facts rather than the rhetoric. Private and public schools are not busy "recruiting" for their golf, tennis, and cross country teams, much less their "one-act play" ensembles (which Speaker Murphy and his granddaughter cared so much about.) No, when schools recruit, they do it for football, basketball, and to a lesser extent, baseball. Don't know about the other private schools listed, but Darlington has amassed a whopping 1 state title in football, 0 state titles in basketball, and 1 state title in baseball in the entire career of Larry Campbell. In fact, no state titles in any sport in many years until girls cross country this year. Either athletic recruiting is not the primary motivator of the Darlington "athletic factory" or they are just really, really bad at it.

Greengolf
72
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Greengolf 11/19/10 - 01:53 pm
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I noticed that Campbell did

I noticed that Campbell did not chime in on the facilities issue since he now has a 4000 square foot indoor practice facility with astroturf. The indoor practice facility paid for in part with State funds. Yes funds provided for by private school parents too.

doublebogey
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doublebogey 11/19/10 - 02:35 pm
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Hey Larry, If you are feeling

Hey Larry, If you are feeling multicultural, stop by and meet some of those international students and out-of-staters at the game Friday. You won't be able to meet them on the field since not a one of them sees playing time. You might not have heard, but football isn't real big in Germany unless you are talking about headers and corner-kicks. Think "Glee" when you are imagining our recruited boarding talent. The truth is Darlington will be beating you with a roster picked from about 150 boys who have ever even touched a football before they arrived on campus. We're small and slow and not very athletic..........much like 1998. Remember!!!!! Better not fire up that grill too early...

Lou Stewall
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Lou Stewall 11/19/10 - 04:06 pm
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No mention of the 49-6

No mention of the 49-6 butt-whipping of Pace Academy last week. This is a private school. There are only a handful of private schools that have athletic facilities as nice as Lincoln County.

bleedsgreenandgold
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bleedsgreenandgold 11/19/10 - 04:48 pm
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According the Georgia High

According the Georgia High School Football Historians Association websiste (ghsfha.org) Aquinas has been competing athletically against public schools since 1948, which is 19 years before the "GHSA" was officially formed in 1967. Aquinas High is a charter member of the GHSA and I believe that because of it's history it cannot be compared to the typical upstart private school whose primary missions were to provide an alternative to the the public school systems because of the integration that was occurring in the late 60's and early 70's. Aquinas' primary mission for it's entire history has been to provide a quality academic education in a Catholic Christian tradition. I believe that the reality is that the costs of a non-government schools are driving families away from Catholic schools and many other private schools that are not in the metro-Atlanta area. Economics have dictated that in order to pay teacher/staff salaries, maintain the physical plant, and keep the utilities on, that tuitions have to be set at levels that normal working families can't afford them any more. The current trend is that attendance is down at all of the Diocese of Savannah Catholic high schools, and I believe that is true for most private schools outside of metro Atlanta.
Also if you do a search on this website for "Aquinas Laney" you will find an interesting article about the first integrated high school football game in Georgia, I would love to see that honored with a re-match at the appropriate time. In conclusion I believe that blanket statements concerning public shools being at a disadvantage to private schools and private schools not being allowed to play against public schools are short sighted, there is no way a school like Aquinas should be exiled to a private school league.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 11/19/10 - 05:00 pm
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To bleedsgreenandgold: Please

To bleedsgreenandgold: Please note (as it said in the story) that coaches go out of their way to exclude schools such as Aquinas and Athens Academy from the issue at hand.
As for Pace Academy, Lou Stewall, it has fielded a football team for only three seasons and never played a public school before last Friday. Yet already it is in the GHSA playoffs. George Walton Academy just moved from GISA this season and already advanced to the second round.

devil70
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devil70 11/19/10 - 05:10 pm
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I 100% agree.Private schools

I 100% agree.Private schools can recruit just like college teams.its not fair to public school if they cant do the same.Let the public school go recruit other students from joining counties and that would balance the scale.its just like the private schools are agents and they are buying the best players to win championships instead of taking the players they got and winning it but they probably couldnt do like that.

doublebogey
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doublebogey 11/19/10 - 06:43 pm
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Hey Larry, just checked the

Hey Larry, just checked the rankings. 4 out of 50 ranked teams in Georgia are private. 7 out of top 10 in SINGLE A are PUBLIC. Something tells me the sky isn't falling quite yet. And oh devil70, are you seriously saying that the Bufords, Calhouns and, Lincoln Countys don't have their pick of kids from neighboring counties. Are you kidding me. Just go down your roster and see how many kids "moved" into your district over the last few years. Are you recruiting, or are the players flocking to your very successful program, or is there a difference??? Private schools recruit EVERY student at their schools. They don't have a district at all. But you fail to recognize that they are recruited for so many different reasons. Do you think Darlington is helping its football team by recruiting 30 soccer players who CAN"T even play for the school because the GHSA forbids it. The fastest kid on our team can't sniff a 4.5 40. I would imagine we would be pumping out NFL players since we have our pick of athletes, except we have never had one..............not one. Rome (West Rome, East Rome), Pepperell, and most other schools in Rome area have had NFL talent but not Darlington. Surely, if we recruiting we could have given one of these great athlets a scholly. Nope. Doesn't work that way. Kickoff in 45 minutes. Gonna be a good one.

devil70
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devil70 11/19/10 - 07:00 pm
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To doublebogey,i will

To doublebogey,i will guarantee 95% of the players on the team are born and bread in lincoln county.We work with what we got.No matter what any of those private schools do,that cant cant compare To the RED DEVILS.when you get time go look at the georgia high school football records.I will bet you lincoln county is in the top 5 of most of those lists.Good luck tonight.

SouthernPride
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SouthernPride 11/20/10 - 02:27 am
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It sure was a good one.

It sure was a good one. You're gonna have to put out more scholarships and get some better players because the one's from New York, North Carolina, Texas, and even those from outside the United States just weren't enough.

Once again, the private schools have a rude awakening coming their way. The hour glass has been flipped and it is only a matter of time now.

SouthernPride
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SouthernPride 11/20/10 - 02:29 am
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doublebogey, Grill is fired

doublebogey,

Grill is fired up and waiting on you. Today's menu: TIGER MEAT!!!!!!!

Remember 2010?

Techfan
6462
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Techfan 11/20/10 - 06:16 am
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Souther: You hit the nail on

Souther: You hit the nail on the head. It's not so much recruitment, it's that many private schools offer scholarships. 5 star recruits gets to go to school for free, room and board and other expenses, and mom and dad get $. Pay for play.

gtcivil
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gtcivil 11/20/10 - 09:59 am
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Campbell and Hutto are

Campbell and Hutto are talking out of both sides of their mouths. Public school coaches love to say that private schools can't compete, that they are inferior. When a few private schools do well, the whining begins. Hutto and Campbell look small - very small.

gtcivil
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gtcivil 11/20/10 - 10:06 am
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One more thing - Hutto thinks

One more thing - Hutto thinks Aquinas and Athens Academy are doing it "the right way" because those two schools don't have the winning records of Wesleyan or George Walton.

SouthernPride
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SouthernPride 11/20/10 - 07:44 pm
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gtcivil, Athens Academy was a

gtcivil, Athens Academy was a second round playoff team this season and makes the playoffs on a consistent basis. So I ask, what the heck are you talking about? Get your facts straight child!

And yes, George Walton does recruit. How do I know? They approached my nephew about attending their school on an "athletic scholarship" this past summer. He is a rising young star on the football field.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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