"History of GHSA" Contains Some Surprising Facts

Submitted by webmaster on Thu, 11/05/2015 - 9:14am

As part of an Employee Handbook we are working on in the GHSA office, I recently gave Media Director Steve Figueroa the task of compiling a brief history of the GHSA. Using numerous published resources, he came up with some interesting facts about our organization.

For example, did you know that the GHSA was headquarted in Athens for the first few years? Only after Sam Burke was hired did the office move to its present location of Thomaston.

And, can you guess how many member schools there were in 1936? Would you believe 419? Most people believe a membership of 400+ is a fairly recent revelation, but the GHSA first went over that number almost 80 years ago! So, here is more of the History of the GHSA:

The present-day Georgia High School Association was organized in 1908 under the direction of its first president, Dr. Joseph S. Stewart, who had come to the University of Georgia in 1903 primarily to work with the high schools in the state.

The GHSA is a voluntary organization composed of over 450 public, charter and private high schools with more than 150,000 students participating in GHSA programs. Member schools are divided according to size so that each will have an opportunity to compete for honors among schools near their own size. The state is divided into regions in each classification. Each region is operated by the schools within that region.

The GHSA operates under a Constitution and By-Laws which contains the standards of eligibility to be met by high school pupils for attaining the privilege of participation in interschool contests, and rules controlling the participation among schools. By adoption of the Constitution and By-Laws through its membership, member schools have by their initiative acted to operate and discipline their interscholastic activities and contests.

The  rules-making  body  of  the  GHSA  is  the  State  Executive  Committee,  composed  of  members  elected  from  every  region  within  the  GHSA classification structure as well as several at-large members representing other important educational and athletic organizations.

The  operation  of  the  GHSA  is  the  responsibility  of  the  Executive  Director  and  his  staff.  Although  the  position  was  called  Executive Secretary-Treasurer at the time, Sam F. Burke became the first full-time director of the GHSA in 1946. Previously, Mr. Sam, as he was known, filled the same role on a part-time basis beginning in 1939 while also serving as Superintendent of Schools in Thomaston, where the GHSA is headquartered.

Burke retired in 1976 and was followed as Executive Director by Bill Fordham (1976-1991), Tommy Guillebeau (1991-2001), Ralph Swearngin (2001-2014) and Gary Phillips (2014 - ).

The GHSA joined the National Federation of State High School Associations in 1928, becoming the 28th member at the time. The GHSA currently sponsors state championship programs in 15 boys and 15 girls sports and activities.


1908 – GHSA organized under first President Dr. Joseph S. Stewart
1922 – First State Basketball Tournament held in Macon
1928 – GHSA joined the National Federation
1928 – First regulations regarding student physical examinations passed
1936 – Membership of GHSA tops 400 schools
1939 – Sam Burke elected Executive Secretary-Treasurer (works from his home)
1940 – LPGA hall of famer Louise Suggs wins first girls state golf tournament
1941 – Official state office of GHSA moves from Athens to Thomaston
1945 – First girls state basketball tournament held
1946 – Burke becomes first full-time director of GHSA on October 1
1946 – Sportsmanship Committee was formed to deal with acts of poor sportsmanship
1948 – First official state-wide football playoff system adopted
1950 – Thomaston launderette becomes first independent GHSA office facility
1956 – Added a fifth classification, AAA, for state’s largest schools
1972 – GHSA office expanded on same site as original launderette
1972 – Went back to only four (4) classifications, eliminating Class “C”
1976 – Bill Fordham becomes second full-time Executive Director
1978 – Renamed the four classifications, eliminating the Class “B” designation
1991 – Tommy Guillebeau becomes third full-time Executive Director
2000 – Added a fifth classification, AAAAAA, for the state’s largest schools
2001 – Ralph Swearngin becomes fourth full-time Executive Director
2003 – GHSA office more than doubles in size with addition to original building
2012 – Split Class “A” playoff competition into Public and Private championships
2014 – Gary Phillips becomes fifth full-time Executive Director