Column: ""The Sports Trail": Who are those guys? Oh, another private school

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

by David McNeal

The continuing success of private schools into the state playoffs of all sports has me wondering if maybe they need to form a league of their own.

As I looked at the teams that made the second round of the football playoffs, I wasn't surprised to see a number of private schools and academies that have qualified ---- again ---- just like they did in volleyball, cross country, and golf this fall.

Most of these private schools are of a size to fit into the AAA classification, which just happens to be the one Berryville and Green Forest compete in. Is it a fair competition, or do the private schools have private means of assembling winning talent.

Whether they "recruit" or not, the key word there was "assembling." While private schools that belong to the Arkansas Activities Association have to go by those bylaws, just like everybody else, it doesn't quite work that way in reality.

For instance, if a private high school basketball team needs a post player, they can go out and get one.

How, you ask?

Why, by simply asking a good, tall player to come to school there. If he can't afford the tuition, it can be arranged for him. No transportation? A ride will be arranged. Daddy needs a job in the "school district" of the private school so they can move? Expect a call from a booster.

Truth is, when a private school exists in or around the boundaries of a big public school of a higher classification, it's always tempting for athletes to leave if they aren't getting enough playing time.

A volleyball or football player sitting on the bench, or maybe just getting a few minutes of playing time, can step down into a lower classification and often be outstanding.

Does the same thing happen to public school teams? Sometimes. We've all heard about a family that moved into a district, with the children from that family making an impact. But it's rare for three or four families to move to the same school at the same time, or in the same year.

Often, parents feel more comfortable with their children in a private school, most of which don't have all the problems found in public schools. Plus these private schools are usually associated with a church or religion and their ethics.

The situation was widespread in Louisiana in the 1970s when public schools struggled to provide a quality, safe education for their students. At that time, there was a private school association that had more than 50 schools involved.

They held regular season contests, then state tournaments at neutral sites. But they didn't compete with the public schools.

Year in and year out, private schools have an opportunity to take any athlete that wants to come to their school, and the talent level of all their teams stays high. Public schools have highs with seasons of talent, then lows when the cycle of athletes is slim.

Should private schools start their own league or stay in the public school leagues? When parents get tired of losing to them, year after year, and speak out, that's when there will be a change.

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