Halfway through Pinecrest Academy’s second year in the Georgia High School Association, its athletic program is enduring some growing pains.
Dec. 2, athletic director Andres Montana fired football coach Charles Wiggins, citing a need for new direction. A week later, Montana coached his final game of boys basketball this season.
Montana said he stepped down from coaching to focus solely on his numerous athletic director duties, with his efforts to see Pinecrest placed in its preferred region ranking as the most urgent.
“There’s so much going on with our little program going into the GHSA,” Montana said Wednesday, two days after returning from a week-long leave of absence.
“I was kind of running ragged trying to coach. … I needed to find some balance.”
Assistant Che Brewer will be the interim coach in charge of boys basketball for the remainder of the season, Montana said.
The GHSA’s reclassification committee placed the 250-student private school on Peachtree Parkway in Region 8 (subregion A) of Class A and denied Pinecrest’s request to transfer to subregion B of Region 6. Montana will appeal that decision to the GHSA’s full executive committee Jan. 10.
While both alignments’ members are comparable in average distance from Pinecrest, subregion B of Region 6 now contains four schools within 20 miles of campus after Mount Pisgah’s successful appeal to transfer from subregion A. Fellowship Christian, King’s Ridge and St. Francis are the other three.
Three Region 8 schools are 30 miles from the Paladins’ campus or closer, but only one of them, Lakeview, is in subregion A with Pinecrest. The next closest school in the subregion, Commerce, is 62.9 miles away.
While Region 6B-A houses the most schools that are close to Pinecrest, it also has four that are more than 100 miles away: Dalton Christian, Georgia School for the Deaf, Gordon Lee and Trion. That was the reclassification committee’s main reason for rejecting the appeal to join the subregion, Montana said.
“[The committee] said ‘why do you want to get into a subregion that has schools that are 100 miles away?’” Montana said. “But there are also schools in the subregion that are 15 minutes away. They’re also kind of natural rivals. … But [the GHSA] didn’t understand why we would be moving.”
All Class A sports teams will play the majority of their region games against subregion competition, but some crossover matchups may be needed to ensure GHSA scheduling requirements are fulfilled. The association mandates that all non-football sports teams play at least half their contests against region competition. For football, the requirement is 70 percent.
There’s a very good chance Class A will be completely restructured, too. A group of public schools desiring a full public/private split met Wednesday and formed tentative plans to separate from the GHSA.
In response to what the disgruntled public school officials are calling the Georgia Public Schools Assocation, the GHSA is considering splitting Class A based on service area, grouping larger, urban schools together in one tier, with smaller, rural schools in another.
The GPSA’s advisory committee includes Greg Ellis, the associate athletic director at Gordon Lee — a proposed member of the subregion Pinecrest wishes to join.
“These appeals could be basically irrelevant, anyway,” Montana said. “It’s kind of messy.”
Montana said he slowly realized throughout the school year that a personal change was necessary, and his team’s 47-31 loss to Fellowship Christian Dec. 9 served as the tipping point.
“It all kind of comes to a head,” Montana said.
“You kind of [ask yourself] ‘what’s going on here?’ Losing a game always has consequences … and that one kind of made me think ‘what am I doing here?’ Am I being able to give the best to the kids? Do I need to maybe step away and take a little break?”
Montana said he took a week away from school to spend time with his wife and seven children and evaluate things, then concurred with other Pinecrest administrators that he should set coaching aside for now.
Brewer cannot officially be named Pinecrest’s head coach because he’s not a full-time employee at the school, but he provides continuity after serving as an assistant.
He’s 2-1 so far in Montana’s stead. Pinecrest beat Galloway 48-42 in overtime last Friday and is set to take on St. Pius X Tuesday in the St. Pius X Christmas Classic.
“Coach Montana’s done a great job of grooming our team,” Brewer said after the Galloway game. “I don’t really have to do that much work as a coach. My job is to just make sure the guys keep playing together and playing hard. That’s pretty easy to do when you have guys like we have.”
Montana said he may decide to return to the bench next season, but that determination will be made at a later time.