This is by the L.A. Times’ Eric Sondheimer. And it’s also available on their prep sports site.
Call it a public-vs.-private schools feud that is simmering, if not starting to boil.
It has come to the point that Newhall Hart Coach Mike Herrington, a member of the Southern Section football advisory committee and someone respected for his calm, clear thinking, says he’s ready to propose that the Southern Section create separate playoff divisions for public and private schools.
“The equality is not there,” Herrington said of the current alignment.
Front and center in the debate are Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Ventura St. Bonaventure, private schools that were placed with public schools in the Tri-Valley and Channel leagues, respectively, and aren’t just winning but wiping out the competition.
In Ventura County, the public school coaches are fed up. And now Herrington, after four consecutive losses to St. Bonaventure in nonleague games, is wondering if the unlimited attendance boundaries enjoyed by private schools is too great an advantage to overcome.
Herrington said that as media coverage has expanded because of television and the Internet, private schools have gained added exposure.
“They are more visible than ever and kids say, ‘I want to go there,’ and they can,” he said. “There might be a kid in Ventura County say, ‘I want to go to Canyon,’ but they can’t unless they move.”
Public schools were given a brief boost when the state legislature passed the open-enrollment law that took effect beginning with the 1994-95 school year. It allows students to attend any public school within their school district, regardless of where they live as long as there is room.
And that’s the problem today. Open enrollment has fallen to a trickle in many districts because of space limitations.
That leaves an unequal playing field, at public and private schools. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, high schools that still have open enrollment slots continue to attract athletes for top programs, such as Chatsworth in baseball, Woodland Hills Taft in basketball and Lake Balboa Birmingham in football. Other schools that want to offer open enrollment spots can’t because they’re overcrowded.
Private schools have complained that they are at a disadvantage because they charge tuition, but financial aid, or “scholarships,” as coaches like to say, have become commonplace.
Bill Redell, football coach at Oaks Christian, has grown frustrated with the continuing criticism of his program and said he would support a separate playoff division for private schools.
“It might be a good idea,” he said. “Then you’d quit all this controversy about us taking all their players.”
Setting up such separate playoff divisions would be such a complicated task, its chances of happening are improbable, Westlake Village Westlake football Coach Jim Benkert said.
Benkert tried to come up with a plan last year but abandoned the idea because, “I could never get it to the point where I could answer all the questions.”
In Honolulu, there are separate football leagues and playoffs for public and private schools before they join for a Hawaii state championship tournament. But there are 28 public and 26 private high schools on Oahu compared to 360 public and 204 private high schools in the Southern Section.
In Chicago, there’s a public school league and a Catholic school league, and the top football teams from each, if they are not involved in the state playoffs, play each other at Soldier Field at the end of the season. .
Whether this issue is important enough to attract interest from many schools in the Southern Section remains to be seen.
Thom Simmons, a Southern Section administrator, said, “No coach has called me, ‘Thom, there’s a problem with public versus private schools.’ ”
That may be because many coaches have given up hope that something can be done. Or, for some, the problem was temporarily resolved during the last go-round or league realignment, when many private schools were grouped in the same leagues.
What’s certain is, if someone as respected as Herrington has concluded there’s a disparity problem, others are sure to agree.
In December, six football teams will be invited to participate in the first CIF state bowl games. If the majority of the teams playing in the three games are from private schools, that “will probably fuel the debate,” said Marie Ishida, CIF executive director.
The animosity level is rising among coaches and parents, and this issue can’t be ignored.