The Domination of Private School Athletics

Picture credit:Delaney Griffin. One of the four densely packed trophy cases at Jesuit High School in Beaverton, Oregon. The large number of trophies puts the absolute domination that affluent, athletic powerhouses like Jesuit have over the majority of public schools into perspective.

Here at Franklin, much of the student body there tends to hold a certain attitude about our school’s athletic programs. Many students don’t believe we can hold our own because of the common argument that “well, we’re not Jesuit, or Central Catholic, or Grant, or Lincoln.” Students, both in our athletic programs and not, look at Franklin athletics as a joke because we “simply can’t compete” with many of the well-to-do public schools in the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL), or with the dominating private schools in the Portland area.

This, however, is not completely the fault of the students at our school. There is a major issue affecting almost every state in the country: private schools, and more affluent public schools, perform better in athletic competitions. Ever wonder why during the 2018 fall season, the Franklin women’s soccer team was 48th out of 51 6A schools in Oregon, our volleyball team was 50th out of 53 teams, and our football team was dead last out of 46 teams, while Jesuit and Central Catholic each won two state titles? There are several different reasons which can be linked to the economic advantages of the Portland private schools.

For starters, the private schools in the Portland area, like Jesuit, Central Catholic, and Saint Mary’s, do not have neighborhood boundaries to restrict who makes up their student body. This allows them to recruit student-athletes who live in the neighborhood boundaries of various Portland public high schools. As private schools recruit out of PIL neighborhoods, many strong athletes choose to go to private schools, which betters their athletic programs and takes athletes away from public school athletic programs. “No boundaries mean schools and coaches can sell their school and programs. It means they have the potential to concentrate talent,” said Jacob Michaels, the head coach of Franklin Cross Country. As more and more neighborhood athletes join the ranks of the Crusaders, the Rams, and the Blues, public schools like Franklin are left struggling to keep up.

Some coaches believe another reason these private school athletic powerhouses are so dominant is that some schools have offered reduced admission for successful athletes, but disguised it as academic merit scholarships or as need-based loans. If this is true, it is very well hidden, as many private schools claim to give either no scholarships, or strictly academic scholarships. However, Michaels recalls a time when a middle school runner in the Franklin area was approached by a private school coach at a cross country meet: “Years ago, a Mt Tabor [Middle School] runner was told that he had guaranteed admission and [a] favorable loan to attend that school, due to his running prowess,” he said. If this is the case, how can public schools ever expect to catch up, and how can anyone say this is fair? Offering money in any form to a student-athlete in order to better your program is bribery, and does not look good. Although it may be hard to find proof of this assumption, it doesn’t seem that absurd of an idea when you look at the packed trophy cases of Jesuit and Central Catholic, or at either school’s website, both of which are set up as nearly identical to the website of any university. This is not college, student athletes are not monetary investments, and high school athletics are not a business.

The question stands: is recruiting fair? Absolutely not. “I grew up a public school kid and so it’s always been hard to compete against them when [private schools] are getting everyone’s best neighborhood kids,” said Franklin’s athletic director Scott Santangelo. Santangelo has been apart of PIL athletics for many years and is very familiar to what goes on in the recruiting business. He even believes that Franklin being forced to go up against private schools is not a fair situation. “That’s just the way we operate. If we do end up going into the state playoffs, great. But from there we aren’t expected to go past playoffs,” said Santangelo. Going into a game that is stacked heavily for one team is not fair to the other school. The games turn into blowouts and the athletes’ morale turns into nothing. State playoff brackets become typical and the winner can usually be identified from the start. This is becoming the norm, and frankly, it’s boring.

Secondly, these rules are not for the benefit of the athletes, and this starts at a very young age. “[Private schools] can actually actively recruit at middle school events,” said Santangelo. Middle school kids should be thinking about what school fits their best needs, they should not be having to decide on a high school based on who will give them more money or what team will most likely win a title. “[Private schools] can get kids because they hang championship banners and that kind of breeds success early on,” said Santangelo. High school should be about preparing for the future academically.  Some students are allowed to pass through high school with poor academic skills, just because they are a good athlete. This does not set them up for a very bright future, since it’s very risky to put all bets on sports being a career. Injury could occur, or the athlete could burn out from the immense pressure they are being put under, leaving them with no other viable career options.

In a formal letter responding to an Oregonian article, Jesuit principal Paul Hogan attempted to counter the arguments saying Oregon high school sports are rigged. While schools like Jesuit don’t see that they are giving themselves an unfair advantage above other programs in Oregon, the past results of state competitions beg to differ. Out of the last 18 years, Jesuit have averaged almost 6 titles per year, while many public schools have not won a single title. Ask any athlete who has played for a small, underfunded public school how tough a season can be on their confidence and the answer will be the same; losing time and time again because of uncontrollable circumstances can really get you down.

Going forward, the solution to this inequality would be to banish the rules of recruiting athletes, thus evening out the playing field for smaller schools, who are just using what they have. Winning just based on the raw talent of the athletes and what the program is given, feels a lot better than using money to higher your chances. The narrative can still be changed back to a time where school and socially thriving came first. Let’s save the recruiting and “scholarships” for college, where kids are more equipped to make such a big decision about their futures.

 

PC: Delaney Griffin

One of the four densely packed trophy cases at Jesuit High School in Beaverton, Oregon. The large number of trophies puts the absolute domination that affluent, athletic powerhouses like Jesuit have over the majority of public schools into perspective.

 

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