The Georgia High School Association will move quickly to hire a new executive director after it stops collecting resumes today.
The association, which regulates high school sports in Georgia, is looking for an executive director because Gary Phillips was forced to retire by pressure from members of the Georgia General Assembly. The legislature threatened earlier this year to pass laws that would have moved high school sports away from the GHSA to a state-run agency.
One of the legislators who led the effort to change the way high school sports are operated, Republican Sen. Bruce Thompson from the 14th District, said whether the bill is introduced again depends not on who the GHSA hires, but on how the new hire runs the organization. He said he expects a greater level of accountability, cooperation and transparency from the GHSA if it wants to avoid future time in the General Assembly’s spotlight. That pressure abated when Phillips announced he would resign at the end of the school year. By then, the GHSA hopes to have a new director on board.
GHSA spokesman Steve Figueroa said the circumstances of the change have made the process different than when Phillips was hired. Resumes are being collected by an outside law firm, meaning Figueroa did not know how many applications the GHSA has received. “Because of the situation, it is not being handled in-house,” he said.
That firm will hand over applications to the GHSA’s Board of Trustees next week, and the trustees will meet on May 4 to select candidates to interview. Those interviews will have to go quickly, because the full GHSA Executive Committee has a meeting on May 16 to select the next executive director. That means the GHSA will have to identify top candidates, conduct interviews and make a contingent offer within a span of 12 days. The new hire is scheduled to start June 1, barely two weeks after the expected vote on the hire.
Even with the compressed schedule, Figueroa said the process was open and that no candidate had been pre-selected. While Figueroa did not know the number of applicants, he does know there is one who is believed to have applied. Jay Russell, who is GHSA’s assistant executive director, is expected to be a leading candidate for the job. Russell is the son of former University of Georgia assistant coach and Georgia Southern head coach Erk Russell.
A large part of why Phillips was forced into retirement was the GHSA’s perceived inability to regulate athletes transferring from one high school to another. A committee formed to investigate that issue is expected to present a report at the May 16 meeting, but Figueroa cautioned that it will not be easy to find an effective regulation that can withstand a court challenge. Other state associations, he said, have attempted to prevent certain transfers, but they have been unable to do so when parents took court action. He said the influx of international students and an increase in homeless students only make the issue more difficult to control.
Still, the GHSA looked at every transfer from the 2015-16 school year and found that about 97 percent of them did not even raise questions. Thompson said he agreed one of the main issues he would like to see addressed is students transferring from one school to another without a legitimate move. “We hope to find some way to prevent the recruiting that goes on,” he said. The issue, according to Thompson, goes deeper than athletics. When a student leaves a school for any reason, tax dollars from the state follow that student to the new school. That means a school is hurt athletically if a player is recruited away by a rival, but it also is damaged financially.
“It is a complicated issue, no doubt about that,” he said.