Wichita, Kan. 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."