It’s Tuesday, July 1st: the start of a new day, a new month and for the GHSA, a new leader at the helm.
After twenty-four total years serving on the Georgia High School Association staff, twenty-one as executive director, Dr. Ralph Swearngin has elected to leave his post and hand the reigns off to a new leader. Today, former Assistant Executive Director Gary Phillips officially assumes the GHSA's highest executive role. While all organizations confront issues both simplistic and complex in nature, Dr. Swearngin reflects positively on years of strides made in the development of Georgia’s youth athletics.
“I’ve had a wonderful time as a member of the GHSA staff. My tenure as the Executive Director has been mostly positive even though the Association has grappled with some thorny issues over those years. I’ve been surrounded by a great group of staff members, and have had a high level of cooperation from the administrators, coaches, and athletes at our member school. I’m pleased with the successes that all of us have accomplished as we have worked together,” said Swearngin.
Swearngin has overseen Georgia high school athletics since 1992. (That would make the seniors his first year on staff now 42 years old!) Within that timespan, many tweaks and changes, additions and subtractions have been made both within the organization and across all of high school sports. Dr. Swearngin proudly says the GHSA has been on the cutting edge in terms of innovation and in providing the best possible environment for Georgia’s youth.
“The whole landscape of high school athletics across the nation has changed since I came on the GHSA staff in 1992. Since I became the Executive Director in 2001, the speed of those changes has been phenomenal. I am pleased that the GHSA has positioned itself on the leading edge of many of those changes, especially in areas such as health and wellness for athletes, use of technology, and marketing association events.”
As Phillips climbs the ranks to fill Dr. Swearngin’s shoes, he feels that his twelve years spent serving as assistant to the executive director have well-prepared him for his new role.
“I've been here long enough to know generally where things are, how most of the processes work and those things and it's just a matter of an opportunity. You know it would've been a good thing for all of us if Ralph had stayed on for a few more years but he was completely in charge of the timing…” Phillips explains, chuckling.
Phillips described two primary changes that have further shaped the landscape of the GHSA since he first began.
The first is the immense increase in membership.
“I think the biggest thing is the number of schools that are in our membership now. We have over 450 member schools and we were in the 375 or so range when I came here. Historically, we’ve added four or five schools into the membership every year,” Phillips explained.
Phillips said the second biggest change has been regarding the addition to and split in the classfications, as the 2012 season debuted Class 6A and the division of Class A into public and private divisions. The debate surrounding the adequate number of classifications is one that Phillips said the GHSA will continue to grapple with.
“The issue of whether six is the right number, or if five classifications is better...or even four? That's gonna come up every two years no matter what we do, no matter what the situation is in the association.”
Despite the inevitable continued debate surrounding the topics discussed, GHSA’s now former executive director, Dr. Swearngin, feels optmistic about the future of the organization and Georgia’s beloved high school sports as he departs.
“Since the successes of the GHSA have not been based on my efforts alone, I feel certain that the association will continue to move forward wonderfully under the leadership of Gary Phillips. The newly configured staff will likely do some things differently than we did them in the past, but the issues in high school athletics continually change, thus new approaches are necessary. I’m going to enjoy watching the GHSA get better and better each year,” said Dr. Swearngin.