The Green Forest Tigers’ victory over Harding Academy in the championship game of the Class 3A boys state soccer tournament was a huge accomplishment for the team’s players and coaches, and for the community.
It was also a big accomplishment for public schools.
Green Forest became the only team in a major boys sport this school year to deny Harding Academy a state championship. The Wildcats won state titles in football, basketball and baseball. Harding Academy’s girls soccer team also won a state title, beating Green Forest in Saturday’s championship game.
That’s all great for Harding Academy, of course, but not so great for the other 31 schools in Class 3A.
Harding Academy isn’t the only private school that has thrived in athletic competition in Arkansas over the past several years, even if it is the most obvious example this school year. Schools like Shiloh Christian, Pulaski Academy, Little Rock Christian and Central Arkansas Christian have had dominant athletic programs — in fact, either Pulaski Academy or Little Rock Christian has won the Class 5A state football championship for seven consecutive years. Carroll County sports fans are well aware of Shiloh Christian’s success — the Saints have won seven state football championships. Central Arkansas Christian has been a juggernaut in girls basketball and boys and girls soccer. It goes on and on.
What should be obvious to everyone is that the private schools have a clear advantage, and it goes beyond the ability to hire the best coaches and build the best facilities. These schools are also able to attract the best athletes and they aren’t bound by the same geographic restrictions as public schools.
The Arkansas Activities Association has tried to address the issue, to a degree, by placing private schools in a higher classification than their enrollment figures would otherwise dictate — a private school whose enrollment would make it a Class 2A school instead is placed in Class 3A, for example.
But now the AAA’s member schools are considering a new strategy. The AAA is expected to announce next month the results of voting on a “Competitive Equity Factor” proposal. That proposal would classify individual teams from private schools as “dominant,” “competitive” or “non-competitive” over the past four seasons based on a points system. Presumably, teams that have been dominant at a particular level would then be placed in a higher classification.
I support the Competitive Equity Factor. The system we have now isn’t fair to public schools. And spare me the “life isn’t fair” arguments. Public school students will have plenty of time to face that reality as adults.
Too many aspects of our society are divided among the haves and the have nots — and it’s not necessarily because the haves are somehow more deserving. There’s just no need for high school athletics to follow that trend.