Politickin’ High School Sports: A Brief History

“I get more phone calls on this than I do every piece of legislation y’all ever introduce. and basically, I am sick of it…When I say that I get more complaints about you than I do about every bill that 236 people introduce, I’m not exaggerating that.”

That’s a quote from the House Rules Chairman to his colleagues, from a story that ran just 4 days before Crossover Day in the Macon Telegraph. The ‘this’ Chairman Johnny Meadows is talking about isn’t guns, or abortion, or gerrymandering. It’s not even religious freedoms, teachers, or taxes.

It’s high school sports.

Folks that read this blog see fall as election season. Folks that don’t, see it as high school football season. The latter, apparently have Chairman Meadows’ ear. Or both ears. So in return, the powerful chairman and a gaggle of fellow legislative heavy hitters in both chambers have grabbed the Georgia High School Association by theirs.

According to Chairman Meadows’ public statements, as well as public testimony by GHSA officials, there’s been consternation over a number of issues at GHSA for some time. Complaints of lack of transparency, favoritism, and illegal recruitment have marred the reputation of the organization and irked folks like Meadows for some time. These frustration came to head last year when it was determined that the GHSA incorrectly set the basketball goals in the 2016 state championship tournament. Oops.

So, the General Assembly, as they tend to do, is responding. They’ve decided to just scrap the GHSA. Or at least they’re saying they are to see how high they’ll jump.

The GHSA jumped. High. During a hearing on one of the bills proposed to abolish and replace the century old organization, a spokesperson for GHSA announced that their Executive Director was resigning immediately.

So that’s where we are. The GHSA has called a last minute meeting for next week in Thomaston to begin a hunt for for a new Executive Director.

While there may be a lot of frustration with the GHSA, and hitting the square in the chin might sound like the best political move after a slew of emails and calls, a cautionary tale from the not so distant past tells us, it ain’t that simple.

Chairman Meadows has been around a long time. Before being elected to the General Assembly in 2004, he was mayor of Calhoun. It’s a fair bet he remembers who the late Tm Murphy was.

Speaker Murphy was the longest serving Speaker of any House in the history of the country. He was also a committed Blue Devil who was in the Bremen High School bleachers every other autumn Friday night.

In 2000, Speaker Murphy got pretty fed up with the GHSA, too. According to him, the private schools were recruiting from as far New York to come down to Bremen to beat the “soup out of us.” So, much like Meadows, he decided to take a swing at them. He used his political muscle and proposed a bill that bumped all private schools up one division.

Speaker Murphy, a seemingly unbeatable titan in Georgia politics, lost just a year and half later, in part, because this activated a pocket of voters. He messed with the status quo of the high school sports world. And whether he was right or wrong, a faction of folks did not like that.

It’s worth wondering if that’s why one name you won’t see on the Senate version of this year’s swing at the GHSA, Senate Bill 203 belongs to the man who beat Speaker Murphy, now Senator Bill Heath. It’s especially worth a thought if you’re one of the ones whose name is on that computer screen beside a bill that abolishes the GHSA.

Author’s Note: You can’t spell ‘champ’ without MP. As such, it is important to note that I have a conflict of interest that creates a strong bias should we decide to discuss which high school football team is worse than Dan Pitts’ Mary Persons Bulldogs.




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