More than half a century ago, the Albany High Indians won their third state football title. They had won several south Georgia titles back in the 1920s and 1930s, and that was the highest honor since state titles weren’t widespread in those days.
How Dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!
Emily Dickinson (Poem 288, 1896)
One city, one team, one people. That was the usual state of things back in those days. Albany, Valdosta, Thomasville, Americus, Tifton and many other cities had one high school. Smaller places like Jakin, Climax, Attapulgus, Leslie and Desoto were likewise blessed.
Progress came to larger cities such as Columbus, Macon, Savannah, Augusta and Albany in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Columbus, with two high schools, now supports nine high schools, and that doesn’t count the private institutions. Macon with Lanier High for boys and Miller High for girls now supports five public and six large private schools. Savannah and Augusta have about 15 public and private high schools each compared to only three or four just 50 years ago.
Albany, with only Albany High (white) and Monroe High (black), supported only two high schools until Dougherty High opened in 1963.Football-playing schools in Albany now number six with three other private schools that do not field football teams, but that have nearly 500 students attending their three campuses. Calculate the effect of Lee County High (1,800) students into the metro mix, and you see we are oversaturated with football teams.
Lee County in a different county stands alone while Dougherty County public schools are the only ones who could change their programs drastically and more positively. Declining enrollments in three of the four public high schools will affect both teacher positions and funding, facility usage and sports programs and region alignments in the future.
Eliminate AHS sports programs
There is no chance that any of the four public high schools in Dougherty County will ever be consolidated with any of the others. That doesn’t seem to be in the mindset of anyone I have talked with in the last 20 years. The next step would be to eliminate the sports program at AHS while keeping the high school open as a magnet school. Allow every incoming ninth grader at Albany High to pick Dougherty, Monroe or Westover as their school of choice for sports while allowing no transfers during those four years except under extreme circumstances.
Those students would be transported after school to their chosen site for athletic practice and back to Albany High afterwards. Each school could pick up 10 to 20 athletes each for football and less for other sports.
The main reason for eliminating Albany High sports is simple. AHS enrollment continues to fall and rezoning students will not help the other three high school sports teams, but could ultimately hurt them.
Current AHS enrollment is about 750 students in grades 9-12. Compare that to 1980 enrollment, which was 964 but did not include the ninth grade. If AHS had included the ninth grade on their campus as other schools do, they would have had well over 1,300 students.
Monroe with the ninth grade would have been about 1300 while Westover would have numbered over 1450 and Dougherty nearly 2000.
Current construction at AHS will spend roughly $10 million on upgrades and rebuilds on a school built in 1954. The bad neighborhood and small campus area will not meet standards mandated by the Georgia Department of Education.
Albany High was built for a student body of roughly 1,600 students and topped 1,900 before Westover High was opened in 1968. All four county high schools are older structures built on smaller campuses than schools in other counties.
Lee County’s high school has two new buildings since the early 1970s. Each school was in a larger, newer building with more adjoining open space. Bainbridge High at roughly $50 million opened this year and has a 150-acre campus surrounding it with 50 acres available for the future expansion of that school.
New high schools built since the middle 1970s include Valdosta, Colquitt County, Tift County, Thomasville Central, Thomasville, Crisp County, Worth County, Mitchell County, Pelham (2009), Bainbridge (2009), Schley County and Miller County (2009).
Expansion in metro Atlanta
Growth in the Atlanta metro area has produced a new high school or two every year for the last 10 years. Gwinnett County has 14 high schools with enrollments from 1,500 to 3,500 per school. It’s hard to keep up with the all the new facilities there.
Valdosta and Lowndes County are planning a new high school in the next year or two in the north end of the county near Hahira. A planned enrollment of about 800 students will take some of the pressure off Lowndes’ 2,700 students and Valdosta’s 2,000 students. Warner Robins and Houston County have four large public high schools and a fifth will open next year in south Houston County near the community of Kathleen. The new high school (Veterans High) has a beautiful new two -story building with all new facilities and large adjoining acreage for sports and outdoor events.
Dougherty County schools are aging rapidly and improvements and new makeovers will not solve the problem of aging locations and undersized surrounding outdoor space. Consider this: Albany High was built in 1953-54, Monroe in 1959-60, Dougherty in 1962-63 and Westover in 1966-67. The ages of these schools range from 41 to 55 years. You would have to look high and low to find any other larger schools in the south Georgia area with facilities this old and still in use. Albany and its children deserve better!
By Sonny Lofton