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Pinecrest mulls GHSA bid
Paladins could move in 2010
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Forsyth County News
Private schools around the state already know about Pinecrest Academy, but it might not be long before the Paladins widen their scope.

Administrators at the small Catholic school located in south Forsyth County are seriously considering applying to join the high-profile Georgia High School Association.

Principal John Tarpley says the school has until April 1 to request membership, which would become effective concurrent with the next GHSA realignment in 2010.

While not yet official, Tarpley said he feels certain Pinecrest will apply to join the association, which is home to over 400 public and private schools statewide. All of Forsyth County's public high schools are GHSA members.

Tarpley said that if he can get the green light from the school's board of directors, the application will move ahead.

"I don't think there's going to be any serious opposition [within the school] to the move," he said.

Pinecrest offers instruction in all grades, but Tarpley pegged its fulltime enrollment in grades 9-12 at around 200, which would place it in the GHSA's Class A, as one of the smallest schools.

If admitted for 2010, Pinecrest would become the county's sixth school to play in the GHSA, following Lambert High, which opens next fall.

Still, the Paladins wouldn't be looking to take aim at the larger schools in the county, Tarpley said — at least not in all sports. The primary motivations for the move would be to save on travel expenses and develop rivalries with other nearby private schools who are already GHSA members.

"We probably couldn't compete with [local public schools] too soon, but someday we should," Tarpley said.

"I don't think it would be fair to our kids to compete in football [with those schools], but you could look at competing in basketball. All it takes is one or two kids in basketball and you can compete with anybody."

Pinecrest has played in the Georgia Independent Schools Association for five years, a much smaller confederation of private schools. When it comes to finding opponents, Pinecrest is a bit of a geographic island, with Holy Spirit Prep in north Atlanta among its nearest GISA rivals. As things stand, the Paladins have become accustomed to long bus rides across the state just to play region games.

Joining the GHSA would place Pinecrest among a sizable fraternity of metro-area private schools who play there, including Mt. Pisgah in Alpharetta, Whitefield Academy in Mableton, Blessed Trinity and Fellowship Christian in Roswell, Wesleyan and Greater Atlanta Christian in Gwinnett County, and Westminster, St. Pius X and Marist in north Atlanta.

The Paladins would also be matched against public schools of comparable enrollment.

Tarpley said he feels the school's programs would be a good competitive fit in the GHSA's Class A, based on performance in the GISA. Pinecrest won the state championship in cross country last season, and the boys basketball team has played in the state championship game two years running. The football team won its first region championship a year ago and qualified for the GISA state playoffs.

"We're going to have to learn how to compete on that level. ... We've been pretty successful at the GISA," Tarpley said.

Charles Wiggins, head football coach and athletic director at Pinecrest, thinks the move would potentially attract more athletes based on the higher profile that comes with GHSA membership. He feels confident that Pinecrest will be playing in the GHSA in two years.

"First of all, I want to say that we like GISA. It was a good fit for us, but all the coaches feel we need to move on up to [the GHSA] because we feel it would just be a better fit for our school. The coaches are all excited about the prospect," Wiggins said.

Wiggins said he hopes the potential move will attract solid athletes with good grades, who might not get the playing time they desire at one of the county's larger schools.

"We can get some of these players that are not playing and [they can] come over to Pinecrest and be an impact on our team," he said.

"I do believe that can happen. Again, it goes back to getting kids into our school that can make the grades and do the things that are necessary ... and the coaches believe that we can get those kids."

There would still be some hurdles in the event of a move. Pinecrest's cozy football stadium doesn't meet GHSA seating requirements for playoff games, so in the event the Paladins were eligible to host a round of the playoffs, they would need to work out a deal with a nearby stadium to host the game or just bite the bullet and agree to play on the road.

Tarpley says such sacrifices would be worth the tradeoff of allowing students to spend more time in class and less time on the bus traveling to far-flung campuses.

It's a sentiment Wiggins shares.

"With gas going up ... we can go right down the road and maybe play Wesleyan, Mt. Pisgah, Fellowship Christian," he said.