Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s won its fifth state basketball title last Saturday afternoon. The Vikings took the best shot from unheralded but undaunted Leipsic before their talent took over midway through the third quarter of the Division IV title game and a decisive 87-63 victory ensued at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.
On Friday, one day before VASJ celebrated its first title since 1995, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced it had reached an agreement with proponents of a proposal that would separate the state tournaments for private and public schools. The proposal that was supposed to be put to a vote of principals from the 829 OHSAA’s members would be removed and replaced with a new competitive balance compromise proposal that, unlike its predecessors of the last two years, only takes into account a school’s boundaries.
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It was hard not to see VASJ as the epitome of why the issues of competitive balance and separate tournaments have grown hotter and more divisive over the past decade.
That’s a shame because, while the current system of determining division alignment across all high school sports in Ohio and the rules that govern that system is flawed and must be addressed, this debate takes away from the accomplishment of all 16 teams that made it to Columbus.
The focus wasn’t on what a fabulous tournament VASJ senior point guard Duane Gibson Jr. had in making 17 of 20 shots he took to score 36 points, while grabbing 14 rebounds with 17 assists and eight steals in two games. The focus wasn’t on Mentor winning the school’s first state basketball title after having been to the regional tournament 10 of the last 13 seasons, or how Cincinnati Walnut Hills – annually one of the top 100 academic schools in the United States of America – worked its way to the state tournament for the first time in its history.
The focus was off the court, off the fields of play.
For those keeping count, private schools and public schools won two titles each. Columbus Watterson and VASJ won the Division II and IV titles, respectively, while public schools Mentor and Ottawa-Glandorf took home the Division I and III championships. The state final four in Division I and III were made up of all public schools, while three of the four teams in both Divisions II and IV were from private schools.
Public schools made up 15 of the 16 teams that reached the Division I regional tournaments. In Division II, public schools made up 10 of the final 16 teams, while Division III had 11 of 16 and Division IV had 10 of 16 teams from public institutions.
Public schools won three of the four state titles in girls’ basketball, with Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown in Division II being the only private school to reach a championship game.
Last fall, private and public schools split the six titles awarded in football and the four divisions in volleyball. Public schools won the Division I titles in both boys’ and girls’ soccer, while private schools won the Division II and III championships.
The new proposal places an addition to a school’s Initial Enrollment Count (EMIS), which is the official enrollment schools turn into the Ohio Department of Education, based on whether or not players on a team’s roster live within a school’s district or designated attendance zone. The rules would be the same for public and non-public schools and applies separately to individual sports.
Team rosters specific to the sports of football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball will be subject to the process. Any player found to be from outside of the school’s attendance zone will be factored by the multiplier. The multipliers, which are still to be determined, will be different for different sports.
The OHSAA said 70 percent of public school district in Ohio have an open enrollment policy, allowing students from neighboring districts to attend their schools. Many private schools in Ohio have no geographical boundary from which they may accept students, or have limited restrictions.
The proposal will be voted on from May 1-15 by the member schools. A simple majority is needed for passage and, if passed, would take effect in the 2015-16 school year. The time before implementation would give the OHSAA time to address and possibly tweak areas of concern.
“I just hope that people can get behind this new proposal, support it, give the organization a chance to implement it and give it some time to function as we think it will and then judge it on those merits after that period of time,” said Wooster Triway superintendent Dave Rice, who spearheaded the separation campaign but now endorses the new competitive balance proposal.
The OHSAA will add a seventh division in football this fall, splitting the larger Division I schools apart from those on lower end of the division.
NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY
There are those from Rice’s group of supporters who aren’t on board with the compromise.
Hudson boys’ basketball coach Jeff Brink told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the new compromise will bring a harder road to competition for smaller Division I schools with the inevitable increase of private schools now in Division II and III that will be bumped up into Division I.
Sean Van Winkle, the boys’ basketball coach at West Chester Lakota West in Butler County, said he’s confident the proposal to separate tournaments would have passed and then forced the OHSAA to make some tough choices.
“I think the only thing this new referendum did was quiet the north people because they were complaining about the small private schools,” said Van Winkle. “It did nothing at all to the bigger schools and it did nothing at all to help salvage the small private schools. Nothing.”
Van Winkle brought up Hamilton Badin and St. Bernard Roger Bacon as examples of two smaller private schools run by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that have seen their enrollments drop significantly over the years, a situation that has occurred in other parts of the state as well where Catholic schools face competition amongst each other for students. Just over 20 years ago, VASJ was a Division I school. Now it is in the smallest of Ohio’s divisions with an enrollment of 105 boys and 100 girls. Bedford St. Peter Chanel is closing its doors after this school year.
Van Winkle believes in placing some sort of radial boundary around schools, be it 20 miles or some other distance that limits the number of schools students could attend to play sports.
“I’m not complaining as a big public school coach. I’m complaining for the small private schools as well,” said Van Winkle. “It’s just a tough deal and I’ve been real vocal about it because I think I see it from a few different perspective. I’ve got players – I’m not worried about that. At Lakota West, we’re getting really good players and have great kids in the West Chester community. Have we lost some? Yes, but you know what? I’m still going to coach and I love being in games that are competitive. But if you really want to do what you’re saying for everyone involved then you have to take a way harder look than what they just bailed out by passing or trying to pass.”
When the votes are tallied in May, the next phase of the debate will begin. How productive that debate will be remains to be seen.
Personally, I’d like to be optimistic about the future and believe a common sense solution can be found. Maybe I’m naïve.
“We fully support this new proposal. It needs to pass, we need to move forward,” said Dalton superintendent Scott Beatty, who worked with Rice’s group. “People say ‘Is this going to work?’ ‘Is this going to fix everything?’ No. There will never be a perfect fix. As long as our society, as long as everybody in Ohio and across the country puts athletics at the fullest extent and looks for that pot of gold at the end of an athletic journey that just doesn’t exist then we’re going to struggle with this.
“Once we get our priorities straightened out we probably wouldn’t have this discussion. But that’s another discussion.”