SCHSL sets aside private school issue, approves 5 classes

The S.C. High School decided Tuesday to divide its member schools into five classifications beginning in 2016-17, but punted on a proposal that would have forced private schools such as Bishop England to play up a class.

The executive committee’s decision, made at High School League headquarters in Columbia, will do away with a four-class system that has been in place since 1968, ranging from the smallest schools in Class A to the largest in AAAA. The new system will go from A to AAAAA.

The executive committee also voted to put aside an amendment that would have forced private schools to move up a classification. However, the net effect of a five-class system likely will be that Bishop England, a Class AA school under the current system, would move up to Class AAA in a five-classification setup.

Bishop England athletic director Paul Runey said he’s fine with that.

“In the five-class system, you are treating everybody equally,” said Runey, who also coaches girls’ basketball at the Daniel Island school. “It’s totally based on enrollment numbers, and no member can complain about it.

“I just don’t want to see any member schools treated differently, whether they are charter, private or public schools,” he said. “If we are playing by the same rules, we should be treated the same. If we are doing something differently, we have rules in place to handle that.”

Runey said a five-class plan he’s seen would group Bishop England in a classification with area AAA schools such as Hanahan, Georgetown and Stall and some AA schools such as Academic Magnet and Garrett Tech. But the makeup of five-classification regions has yet to be determined; the executive committee has scheduled two more meetings to discuss the issue, and a final plan probably will not be ready until September.

The private school proposal, approved by the High School League’s legislative assembly last month, was spurred by the success of schools such as Bishop England, which has won 15 straight state titles in volleyball and three of four in girls’ basketball. Christ Church, a private school in Greenville County, has won four straight Class A football titles and a state-record 54 straight games, St. Joseph’s, also in Greenville County, has won four straight Class A volleyball titles and three straight in baseball.

Wando athletic director Bob Hayes, a member of the executive committee, said it was time to update a classification system that had been in place since 1968, and had been altered over time to recognize seven state champions in football — two each in AAAA, AA and A and one in Class AAA.

Under the five-class system, each classification will have one football champion.

“The committee felt like it was time for a change,” Hayes said. “Having football with seven state champions, there was some pushback on that, and with five classes we go back to a single championship for every classification. But all we voted for today was the number of classifications; time will tell where each school will fall.”

Hayes said with the five-class system in place for 2016-17, it made sense to table the private-school proposal.

“The amendment that was passed (by the legislative body) was based on having four classes,” he said. “If we are committed to going to five classes, then we needed to table that change so we can work through reclassification.”

Runey said a five-class system will be more equitable for smaller schools.

“You are looking at small Class A schools and making sure they are not out-matched,” he said. “There’s such a gap from the smallest A schools to the biggest in Class A. And you are also making it equitable for the smaller schools in Class AA.”

Another significant change is the committee’s vote to abolish the “eight-quarter rule.” Under that rule, a high school football player could play up to eight quarters a week between junior varsity and varsity games. Players will now be limited to one game per week, Hayes said.

“It’s for safety reasons,” Hayes said. “The national federation has come out with some stringent guidelines, and it was time. It’s the smart thing to do.”