Editorial: High school championships, a bad system and class warfare

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Here is a fun fact for you: The Kansas State High School Activities Association recently awarded 15 state championships to 4A and 5A schools. Nine of them were won by private schools.

Well, maybe that isn’t such a fun fact if you are a student-athlete in one of those competing public schools. But it sure is a fun math fact. A full 60% of the championships were won by private schools, despite the fact that private schools only make up about 5% of all 4A schools and about 10% of all 5A schools.

Wow, that’s impressive. Or, maybe, we should do some more math. Look at some fairly typical 4A schools in our area. Those include Baldwin City, Eudora and Tonganoxie. They all have district boundaries set by the state. In very rough numbers, their districts have a population of 5,000 to 10,000 people. That’s where these schools get their students and their athletes. Now, look at the private Bishop Miege school, which just won its sixth consecutive 4A state football championship. Private schools don’t have boundaries set by the state, and that is quite an advantage. While the enrollment at Miege and typical 4A schools are similar, the talent pool they have to draw from is not. Miege basically is on the outskirts of Overland Park, a community of just under 200,000 people. In reality, the school is pretty easy for any students in the Kansas City metro area of about 2 million to attend, if they have the financial means or a scholarship.

That puts a different light on it. It is not hard to see how a school that can pull from a population pool of 2 million will accumulate a more talented group of athletes than a school that pulls from, at most, 10,000.

At this point, you may think you’ve stumbled into a boxed wine convention — full of sour grapes. Indeed, there are plenty of student athletes and parents who are sour about losses to private schools that have ended their teams’ seasons.

Push those folks to the side. Even if you have not a care or connection to a high school sports team, you should be concerned about this trend. And yes, it is a trend. Four-A state football has been won by a private school six years in a row, 5A girls basketball four years in a row, 4A and 5A volleyball both have been won by private schools eight out of the last nine years, and the entire final four field for 4A-1A soccer this year was composed of private schools.

There is a problem with the system. And, if the Kansas State High School Activities Association doesn’t level the playing field, we will soon have a minefield in public education.

How? Public school recruiting, essentially. Public schools can allow students who don’t live in their districts to attend their schools. It doesn’t happen a lot because there usually are some real financial costs to accept a student from outside the district.

It would be unwise and extremely inefficient if recruiting in the public school ranks takes hold in Kansas. Public school recruiting would be detrimental to the future of public education funding. If you think it is hard today to win support for more state school funding, just wait until legislators are able to spin a narrative that public school districts have so much money that they essentially can spend it on recruiting talented athletes. It would be a false justification to constrict public school funding, but that won’t stop some politicians.

How to fix the system is not the point today. It will take some debate and compromise, but it won’t take a team of rocket scientists to come up with a solution. It can be fixed.

And it should be fixed, and for reasons that go beyond financial. If you want to hear full-throated class warfare, go to one of these postseason games that pairs a private school versus a public school. What you hear in the grandstands is far from grand.

There are people who hate the private school kids for the success they have. That is a real shame. No school, public or private, should spend time teaching something so innate as class warfare.

Let’s fix this system and this problem. By doing so, maybe we’ll take a small step to fixing an even bigger one.


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