High School Sports

High School Sports

Private high schools vs. public focus of changes

March 26, 2010


— A survey of Kansas high school administrators by the state's governing body for high school sports found that many think private schools have an unfair advantage over public schools.

So the Kansas State High School Activities Association's board of directors will consider two proposals next month that would either make private schools compete by themselves in postseason play or make them compete at a higher enrollment level.

No immediate changes are likely, but proponents of the changes say the discussion is important. Either change would radically alter the structure of the KSHSAA's current classification system.

"This would be one of the most significant deviations from the way we've done business in the past," said Bill Faflick, athletic director for the City League, which is the city's seven public high schools that have athletics plus parochial schools Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mount Carmel.

Of the two proposals, the one seemingly more popular would move private schools up one classification. Carroll, with 819 students in grades 10-12 this year, and Kapaun, with 667, would move from Class 5A to 6A, where the smallest school this year has 1,066 students.

A private school such as Wichita Trinity Academy, a small Class 4A school, would move up to 5A.

"We have only about 300 students, and now we're competing against schools that have 900?" said Trinity headmaster/principal Matt Brewer. "We can't play football against Hutchinson. We'd be putting kids at risk."

Clay Center principal Mike Adams, a board of directors member who helped draft the proposal, said it would equalize schools, especially because private schools aren't limited to the same boundaries as public schools.

"We have to take the kids that walk through our doors," Adams said.

In Classes 4A, 3A and 2A, the public schools are rural while the private schools come from urban areas. Trinity is part of the Central Plains League with the Independent School and eight rural schools.

The second proposal is more dramatic with seemingly less chance of passing. It puts the state's 26 private schools into their own playoff structure in all sports. It also divides Class 4A into two divisions, essentially creating 11 postseason classes for football and eight for all other sports.

States such as Texas and Tennessee have separate public and private state championships, but each has around 300 private schools.

"I think it would be unfair to put the 26 schools together and have us supposedly play Berean Academy," Carroll president Tish Nielsen said. Berean Academy, in Elbing, is a 2A school with 103 students in its three upper grades.

But many public schools don't think it's fair to compete against private schools.

"I think it's become more of an issue in the past 10 years," said Campus principal Myron Regier, who is on the KSHSAA board of directors.

Possible explanations include increased emphasis on high school athletics, earning college scholarships and winning state championships.

Private schools, which make up 7 percent of the association's member schools, are successful at tournament time. In the current school year, Wichita Collegiate has won Class 3A titles in football, volleyball, girls tennis and boys basketball.

At the Class 5A girls basketball tournament, three of the final four teams were private schools, and the boys 5A title was won by Bishop Miege, in Roeland Park.

Private schools counter that plenty of public schools have similar traditions — Heights became the first school in the state's largest classification to play for a title in football and boys and girls basketball, and Hutchinson has won six straight football titles.

"Of everything completed so far (this school year), privates have won almost 32 percent of all championships, and many public schools feel that private schools have an advantage," Clay Center's Adams said.

In 2006, the KSHSAA created a committee that studied the private-public issue. The main finding was that private schools "earn a disproportionate percentage of postseason final eight, final four and championship game opportunities when compared to public schools."

"A lot of people thought we stopped short —'You need to go ahead and do something about it,' " KSHSAA executive director Gary Musselman said.

Yet the focus on state championships concerns some.

"If that's how programs are being evaluated, they're missing the mark," Faflick said. "(Sports is) for connecting kids to school, teaching life lessons, teaching teamwork, discipline. All are evident if they win or lose at the end of the year."

Gardner-Edgerton principal Tim Brady, part of the proposal to split private schools from championships, is frustrated watching private schools dominate. He links that dominance to recruiting.

Allegations of recruiting and private schools giving athletic scholarships to entice top athletes often crop up. But Musselman said he has found no evidence of recruiting in his 22 years on the job.

Carroll's Nielsen is distressed at the questions of recruiting.

"I don't want them to question our integrity," she said. "I want them to know we're following the rules and guidelines."

Long road to change

It is doubtful that April's board of directors meeting will be more than a discussion. If the board of directors votes to agree to either of the proposals — or comes up with its own proposal — there are still hurdles.

A majority of the board would have to vote to put it on the agenda for its next meeting, in September, and a majority of all schools in all classes must approve it.

Discussion is fine with DeSoto principal David Morford, who was part of the proposal for splitting public and private championships.

"It's getting talked about. That's our goal," he said.

"We don't necessarily have the right answer, but we want to have the dialogue with everybody to have a solution that's workable to everybody."


Janet Lowther 7 years, 10 months ago

It would have been nice to have had a comment from the Bishop Seabury Academy. I don't know if they even have a football team. . .

Bruce Bertsch 7 years, 10 months ago

As far as the "no recruiting" schtick by Musselman. Maybe he should get out of his office more often and see what really happens in Sedgwick and Johnson County. This is a good idea. Anyone who thinks that Wichita Collegiate operates on the same level as Clay Center is crazy. Miege, Carroll, Kapaun should all be 6A. Collegiate should be 5A.

Jake Esau 7 years, 10 months ago

Seabury is 1A right now: often the smaller schools (1A through 4A?) are grouped together for athletic competition, especially in the post-season. I think the larger private schools in the Wichita and KC areas would be more heavily affected by this.

Larry 7 years, 10 months ago

Topeka Hayden....BIG RECRUITER! Hayden recruited a star football player (personal friend of mine) that went on to play Division 1 football. (He was a B- average student ). Ironically, they never sent a single letter to any of our top students with 4.0 gpas. Of course, football was never specifically stated as the reason they were sending letters, etc. but we all knew the truth. This kid was also a state champion in track. I should state that this was many years ago so maybe they do follow the rules now but I seriously doubt it. Proving the privates are recruiting is just too difficult and time consuming. KSHSAA doesn't want to deal with it. Make them all play up one classification.

newmedia 7 years, 10 months ago

Good idea. Should have been considered long ago.

fairmont 7 years, 10 months ago

Certainly the large private schools in Johnson County recruit. Go to a game and see. It is a bigger problem every year as the level of recruiting has increased greatly over the last 10 years or so.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

And public schools shouldn't have to compete against private schools in academic competition either. It's just not fair.

John McCoy 7 years, 10 months ago

As the article says, Texas does not allow private schools entry into competition with public schools. That said, the private schools here in Texas recruit against each other ferociously. They also poach athletes, primarily in football and basketball, from public schools. Some of them cheat so blatantly that they are even thrown out of their private school conferences. For the most part, they want to be admitted to public school conferences, but so far the UIL, the governing body for Texas public school activities, has held them off. Basically, if a private school here needs a tight end or a point guard, they go recruit one.

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