By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 12, 2022
ATLANTA—High school athletes at Marist School, St. Pius X and Blessed Trinity will face off against new and bigger competitors as the fall sports season opens.
New classifications are going into effect as part of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) realignment.
Other Catholic schools made the decision to instead play in different sports conferences. That includes the new St. Mary’s Academy and Pinecrest Academy.
The classification system with the GHSA established an out-of-zone enrollment multiplier. The multiplier was increased from 2 to 3 for reclassification. What the reclassification means is students living out of zone for a school are counted as three students each. That number is added to the number of students living in zone to create the student population used for sports classification. The larger the student body, the higher the sports classification they are assigned.
The realignment was sparked by a criticism that private schools are at an advantage over public schools in sports. The perception was a private school can draw choice players from outside its zone versus public schools enrolling students who must live in the attendance zone.
For Blessed Trinity High School, there are 209 students living in the school’s Roswell zone, another 748 outside the zone, for a total of 957. But with the new classification, the student number is calculated at 2,453 students.
Based on numbers alone, the Blessed Trinity sports teams would be competing in the 2A class, but now compete against schools of four classifications higher. It’s putting the BT Titans in against schools double their size at 6A, Blessed Trinity Athletic Director Ricky Turner said.
This season, Blessed Trinity High School athletes will have the chance to start new rivalries with nearby public schools, such as Roswell High School and Pope High School, he said. Part of the fun will be how the neighboring schools draw more fans to fill the gyms and stadiums.
In addition, the closer regional play will save a lot on travel expenses and athletes will not have to miss class being pulled during weekdays to drive as far as two hours away for competitions.
“We are going to go out and compete. We are going to coach them. We have great facilities. They are going to be prepared against these teams,” said Turner.
Winning a region championship is never easy, regardless of classification, but the athletic program expects its student athletes to rise to the occasion, he said.
What won’t be disturbed is tradition. The longstanding rivalries against other Catholic high schools such as St. Pius X and Marist make up the second and third games of the BT football season.
After a record of nine state championships last year, Marist School is moving from 4A to 6A. It has some 800 students, but around 580 are out of zone.
Derek Waugh, the athletic director, wrote in an email how the biggest change comes with contact sports, without a deep bench for coaches to draw fresh players.
“For most programs, including football, we have already been scheduling larger opponents, but the week in, week out grind will be different,” he wrote.
He said coaches continue to stress to student-athletes the Marist fundamentals: “preaching discipline, hard work, team over self and building competitive greatness.”
Pinecrest Academy athletes faced regional teams on the borders of North Carolina and Alabama under the new classification setup.
Shawn Coury, the school’s athletic director, faced sending teams “traveling to all edges of the state.” Competitors would have been on the borders of North Carolina and Alabama.
“We have a two-and-a-half-hour ride to a two-hour ride to Towns County, a two-hour ride to Carrollton every single time we play a regional game,” he said.
Instead, the Forsyth County independent Catholic school with some 180 students opted to join the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools. With 120 member schools, several are in the northern suburbs of Metro Atlanta within a “nice tight cluster of not having to drive for miles, and miles and miles,” said Coury.
The schools share a common mission as Christian schools, balancing academics and athletics, and have a similar size student body, he said.
“We’re very equal across the boards and competition. Everything’s going to be kind of a battle for us, which is a good thing. We could win or lose any single week. That’s the best way to do it. You don’t want to blow a bunch of people out or get blown out every week,” said Coury.
The new archdiocesan St. Mary’s Academy, along with independent Catholic schools like Notre Dame Academy, Msgr. Donovan and Cristo Rey, will compete in the new Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA). This inaugural sports season for the association has 77 member schools.
St. Pius X High School has roughly 21 of some 1,085 students living in the school zone, said school leaders. The school is now in 6A and will compete with high schools such as Dunwoody, Lakeside, Marist, North Atlanta, Riverwood and South Cobb.
Athletic Director Todd Mooney wrote in an email playing against larger teams is “not new for us and our coaches and athletes are excited to move forward.”
Wrote Mooney, “We just focus on the things we can control and move forward. We are now in competition mode and excited for all of the new challenges associated with the 2022-2023 season and beyond.”