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Pinecrest Academy to leave GHSA, join GAPPS in 2022-23
Pinecrest Academy
Pinecrest's football team has competed in GAPPS the past two seasons, winning the 8-man Division II state championship in 2020 before rejoining the 11-man ranks this past fall. File photo

Pinecrest Academy became the latest school to break away from the Georgia High School Association on Monday when school officials announced Pinecrest will become a full-time member of the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools this fall.

Pinecrest joined the GHSA in 2010 after electing to leave the Georgia Independent Schools Association because of travel concerns. But 12 years later, similar geographical strains have the Paladins severing their relationship with the organization.

"Their original region output grouped us with Towns County up in Hiawassee, Christian Heritage in Dalton, then Bowdon and Mount Zion in Carrollton, and a handful of school in Atlanta — Greenforest, Ben Franklin and a couple other schools," Pinecrest athletic director Shawn Coury said. "So, from a travel standpoint, being in that group was really difficult for us. Making weekday trips to Hiawassee or weekday trip to Carrollton or weekday trips to Dalton are tough, especially for basketball and volleyball and soccer and things like that."

Pinecrest's high school enrollment is 180, which would have placed the Paladins in GHSA Class 1A-Division II Sub Region A with Atlanta Classical, Christian Heritage, DeKalb School of the Arts, Excel Christian, Georgia School for the Deaf and Woody Gap.

Atlanta Classical in Buckhead is the closest trip of the bunch at 60 miles roundtrip, while the farthest is 159 miles roundtrip to Georgia School for Deaf in Cave Spring, some six miles from the Alabama border.

Pinecrest's football team has competed in GAPPS the past two seasons, winning the 8-man Division II state championship in 2020 before rejoining the 11-man ranks this past fall.

Pinecrest competed in Region 1-2A against Calvary Christian [Columbus], Cherokee Christian [Woodstock] and The King's Academy [Woodstock].

"Looking at the GAPPS schedule, we have Cherokee Christian and King's Academy — both in Woodstock — Johnson Ferry Christian kind of right there on the Marietta/Sandy Springs border, Lanier Christian in Flowery Branch," Coury said. "Those schools made more sense in the group around us in terms of how we would be put into regions based on the new classification in the GHSA and what the GIAA was creating as they made their new classifications and regions."

More than a dozen private schools have left the GHSA since the reclassification process began in November, some opting for the newly formed Georgia Independent Athletic Association.

"We considered the GIAA as well, but the travel concern basically stayed the same," Coury said. "We would still have to travel to a lot of schools south of that, like Augusta, Macon and Columbus line in order to play our games. We just didn't feel like that was a viable option right now either."

Weekday travel was chief among Pinecrest's concerns, but several factors drove the decision to break from the GHSA.

The move could also help the school grow enrollment by avoiding a GHSA rule that forces students who transfer between GHSA schools to miss one year of competition

"We have kids come and visit all the time," Coury said. "One of the things that makes it hard for them to transfer is, they fall in love with the school, they fall in love with everything that we do, then we have to tell them that if they transfer here from one GHSA school to another — we'll apply for a hardship if it fits, but in most cases it's not a hardship; people just want to come here — they end up having to sit out for a whole calendar year, not being eligible to play. Being a member of GAPPS offers those kids the opportunity to be immediately eligible. That's huge for us."

Pinecrest shares its service area with South Forsyth High School. According to GHSA bylaws, students must make a "bona fide" move when transferring between GHSA schools to retain their eligibility.

"The transfer eligibility rules were a factor for us, with kids coming from a public school to a private school," Pinecrest Head of School Jake Rodgers said. "There's not a single kid in our school who is zoned to go to Pinecrest Academy. One hundred percent of them have to enroll and have to choose to be here. The rules that GHSA governs itself by are really more aligned with how public schools function."

Pinecrest officials distributed a newsletter on Monday to address frequently asked questions such as what schools Pinecrest will compete against in GAPPS and whether the school could still face GHSA schools during the regular season.

"It's still too early to tell, but it seems positive," Rodgers said of the reception. "Part of the reason for that is because we've been with GAPPS in a number of other sports already, so it's not entirely new. It's not really a shock to people. We play a lot of GAPPS schools — our football has been in GAPPS for a few years now, our middle school has been in GAPPS ... It seems very positive and favorable. Also, again, nobody wants to travel 80 or 100 miles a night a couple nights a week to play basketball."

Pinecrest will finish out the GHSA calendar for spring sports, which runs until the third week of May. 

Coury said he has not considered whether Pinecrest will ever rejoin the GHSA.

"We're excited about what we're about to do," Coury said. "We're excited about joining GAPPS and what the future brings. We'll evaluate whatever's best for our student-athletes every time the question comes up to give our families the best athletic experience they can have."