OHSAA Voting to Split Public, Private

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Shaker’s days of playing St. Ignatius, Hathaway Brown and other private schools in state tournaments may be over.

In May, Ohio High School Athletic Association member schools will vote on a referendum to create a split between public and private schools in high school athletics. The split would divide public and private schools into separate state playoff brackets.

This same proposal was defeated in 1978 and again in 1994. However, with private schools, which make up about 17 percent of Ohio schools, having won about 44 percent of the state championships over the past 10 years, this issue has emerged once again. “In the past seven to eight years, it has become another hot topic,” said Tim Stried, OHSAA director of information services.

Because private schools can recruit players, there is a competitive divide between public and private schools. Private schools can recruit from large geographic areas, and many of their athletes have more opportunities such as camps and extra practice, Stried said.

Plain Dealer Reporter Tim Warsinskey agreed. “Private schools can draw students from anywhere,” he said. “They have the opportunity to attract the best student athletes to their program.”

However, private school tuition creates a financial barrier. According to St. Ignatius Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick, private schools cannot give athletic scholarships or special financial aid to student-athletes.

The OHSAA is not the only state athletic association dealing with this issue. In February 2012, the Georgia High School Association divided private and public schools in postseason competition for cross country, softball, football, basketball, baseball and track and field.

The split has created some difficulties for the GHSA.  “Administration of sports is more difficult when we split public and private schools,” GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin said. In order to facilitate playing together in the regular season but separately in the playoffs, Swearngin said, the GHSA had to create a power rating system. “Just like with the BCS polls, there are arguments,” Swearngin said.

But there are advantages as well. With a split, public schools will not have to suffer defeat after defeat by private school teams loaded with talent. “It’s never any fun to get beat by an all-star team,” said Triway Superintendent Dave Rice, who proposed the referendum to the OHSAA “because the past two referendums failed, and the OHSAA said they were done working on the problem.”

“They have a legitimate point,” Warsinskey said. “They are attempting to find a solution that makes [high school athletics] fair.”

The OHSAA does not want the referendum to pass. “We don’t think this is the solution,” Stried said.

Fitzpatrick agreed. “I don’t think the split is good for Ohio high school athletics,” he said. The split “negatively impacts what anybody’s doing at the high school level,” and creates a lot of unknowns and negative consequences, he said.

However, Principal Michael Griffith is leaning toward voting for the split. “They should have been split long ago,” said Griffith, who comes from California, where public and private schools compete separately.

The referendum vote will take place between May 1 and May 15, and results will be announced May 16.

In both Georgia and Ohio, much of the resistance to the split has come from schools wanting to play the best competition. “Kids like the challenge,” Readance said, noting that Shaker has many strong rivalries with private schools.

Senior volleyball player Savanna McCarthy agreed. “If the best are private schools, then so be it,” She said, “To be the best you have to play the best.”

Update: Triway Superintendent Dave Rice agreed to pull the referendum and instead OHSAA member school will vote on a new competitive balance proposal which would place an addition onto a schools enrollment count, based on the number of players from outside a school’s attendance zone, on a sport-by-sport basis. Both Public and Private schools would be subject to the addition.

A version of this article appeared in print on 26 March 2013 on page 13 of The Shakerite

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