American Leadership wins appeal to remain in Class 2A

By Thomas Grant Jr.

Starting next fall, Gray Collegiate Academy and American Leadership Academy will each compete in different classifications.

The end result of appeals this past week to the South Carolina High School League, however, has the two Lexington County charter schools moving in opposite directions

Gray Collegiate Academy

After the Executive Committee voted 12-3 to deny Gray Collegiate’s appeal from getting moved from Class 2A to 4A, principal Brian Newsome opted to accept the decision.

“While their decision did not go our way, I respect the fact we had an opportunity to have our voices heard,” he said. “After the meeting, our initial thoughts were to appeal this decision to the Appellate Panel; however, after having time to discuss next steps with my coaches and players, we have changed our mind. We will not be appealing this decision any further and look forward to being wonderful members of the 4A classification.”

During the appeal hearing, it was learned the West Columbia school had 400 of its 486 students from outside the Lexington County School District Two attendance zone which includes Brookland-Cayce. As a result of the 3.0 multiplier used by the SCHSL in counting such students, Gray Collegiate’s student population number counted to 1,286 which was high enough to qualify for Class 4A.

Newsome protested the move, citing safety concerns in competing against Class 4A schools whose Class 4A numbers are actual students in sports such as football and soccer.

He also cited the school’s challenges in scheduling games as seen with fellow Region 4-2A schools agreeing to forfeit all sporting matchups with Gray Collegiate to protest what they see as an “unfair advantage” it enjoys in accepting students from all over the state.

Newcome acknowledged Gray Collegiate has a contract to face defending Class 5A football champion Dutch Fork next season. It also has a home game against nationally ranked IMG Academy.

Committee members cited such scheduling among their reasons for denying Gray Collegiate’s appeal.

American Leadership Academy

The Executive Committee also voted 10-5 to deny American Leadership’s request not to move up to Class 4A as well. Athletics director Ray Canady explained the school’s mission in which sports is considered a secondary benefit and that its dwindling number of junior and senior athletes put it at a disadvantage.

American Leadership Academy is only competing in junior varsity sports this school year.

The Executive Committee countered by citing the school’s hiring of such experienced head coaches as Robin Bacon for football and Sandra Dickert for girls basketball. It also expressed a belief the first-year school could have athletic success quickly given it has a large drawing pool in Lexington County.

Instead of accepting the decision, American Leadership made a final appeal two days later before the 7-member Appellate Panel. This time, it found a more receptive audience which voted unanimously to keep American Leadership in Class 2A.

“We were happy with the decision, obviously,” Canady told a Columbia publication. Considering the facts, we are brand new with a limited number of athletes and a limited number of facilities. We wanted to be judged on what we are right now, not on what are in two years. In two years, we will have a track record and it will be based on that.”

Like American Leadership, Gray Collegiate is also looking towards the future.

“As an excellent academic high school the past four years, we take this mission statement seriously,” Newsome said. “We understand our success has placed us in this situation, and now we must prepare and equip our players and coaches with everything necessary to continue this success.

“In the 4A classification, it will afford us the opportunity to compete against local schools which will enhance our gameday experience and climate. We value the partnerships we have created locally and across the state, and we look forward to fostering new relationships in this new classification.”

Up next is the release of the new regions for the 2024-26 school years.