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The public-private school debate

First, from ESPN this morning, Erik Kuselias interviewing the Maine high school football champions:

Kuselias: So what are you guys trying to do to get Maine to be like the football hotbeds like Texas, California and New Jersey?

Huh? When Erik Kuselias thinks of high school football, he thinks of Texas, California and New Jersey before Florida?

Wow, okay.

I had an enlightening conversation with Columbus coach Chris Merritt this afternoon concerning some points brought up in a story I wrote yesterday about summer camps in South Florida. Yesterday, as I sometimes do, I went off on a bit of a tangent within the story about the different amount of preparation that public school programs get during the summer versus private schools. Schools like Columbus tend to work through the summer while most public schools don't really get going until later; late July or August.

Coach Merritt took umbrage with the assertion, pointing out that his Explorers adhere to all the same rules and regulations as their public counterparts under the GMAC and FHSAA.

"We have to follow all those rules just like everyone else, so we do compete on a level playing field," he said. "To say that we have an unfair advantage is misinformed, it's wrong."

He went on to make a good point about another part of the article; when I talk about the way Columbus came roaring out of the gates last year against public school teams. Columbus went on to finish the regular season undefeated, and what coach Merritt had too much class to mention was that the reason they beat those teams so badly is that Columbus was way better than them. Example: Later in the season against Killian, Columbus beat the Cougars by two points, and I think if you talked to anyone who saw that game they would say that it had nothing to do with summer practices or fair or unfair advantages. Columbus was two points better than Killian.

Yesterday, I spoke with Hialeah coach Marc Berman, and he said as much. "Later on in the season, I think it all evens out."

Merritt went on to point out that private school is not some wonderland refuge for all talented athletes. He pointed out that some athletes who proved not to be up for the discipline and high standards have transferred out of private schools all over the county, opting to go elsewhere, many times public schools.

"Not every kid is cut out to wear a tie and go to an all-boys school," he said. Good point.

I remember when I played in high school (Cary High School, Cary, NC), we didn't play against the private schools because they had their own rules. They brought in kids from New Jersey and Virginia, even California and worked their teams like pro franchises. We public schoolers all started in the middle of July with two-a-days, and schools like Columbus weren't on our schedule. The GMAC and Dade County public schools have found a way to make this work by subjecting everyone to the same rules.

The question, like most things in life, seems to come down to finances. Now it's pretty hard to get anyone on the phone at the school district this time of year, but Miami-Dade Public Schools is the one governing body that athletic teams don't share with the private schools. Each time a kid steps on a field with pads on, schools are liable for them. Insurance isn't cheap, and from what I've been able to gather, the disconnect happens when administrators at public schools have to put moritoriums on practices for cost reasons. Schools, especially in our troubled county and state, just cannot afford to keep the kids on the field in early summer.

Is that Columbus' fault? Of course not. And it's not as if Merritt's staff is coaching from an ivory tower. The "coaches waiting to work with the kids" at Columbus that I mention in the story spend a lot of hours of their own time doing so. Actually, public schools with stronger booster programs and more rabid fan bases are sometimes able to defray these costs as well, so it's technically not even a "public-private" debate.

I agree with a lot of points coach Merritt made to me, but a part of me also thinks we can't pretend there is no difference. It may not be an advantage, per se, but it is definitely a circumstance. So what do you think? I know we have a cross-section of public- and private-school readers on this blog, so I trust your opinions. Tell us below in the comments section. And keep an eye out, you can bet we will be touching on this subject again as the summer weeks move us closer to the kickoff of regular season.


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College Coach

The reason I decided to actually sit here and write about this topic is that as a former student-athlete I attended both major public and private schools in Broward County. Therefore I know how it is to have all my tuition, fees, uniforms, travel and books to be paid for by a private school just because I played football. To answer the big question YES I was recruited the same way by high school coaches while I played little league football as I was recruited by college coaches. Unfortunately though there aren't any mandates the high school coaches have to follow as college coaches do therefore the high school coaches are more aggressive. They sell you on the point that they pay for your cleats, sweat suits, gloves, visors and pretty much anything you see the college/pro teams wearing and everything you wont get at a public school. On the football team I was apart of over 60% of us were on full scholarships and we came from many parts of South Florida as north as Port St Lucie to South Miami near Homestead. Some of us were recruited from little league and the others were once at a public schools. The reasons some transferred were for the added perks as previously mentioned or for the fact that they were struggling on test such as back then was the HSAT which has since been replaced by the FCAT. The reason I left the Private School is that out of the 60% that were being brought in only a small percentage of them were able to graduate or the ones that did graduate weren't Clearinghouse cleared. Many of the players were put into remedial classes or electives like weight training 1-4, art 1-4, Sculpture Making 1-3, Bible Study 1-4, and Basket Design 1-2 for four years that couldn't count towards Clearinghouse eligibility. When they are paying for your tuition guess who gets to decide which classes you get to take? These are modern day football factories at the high school level that were once prevalent at the NCAA but have been shutdown due to mandates such as APR (Academic Progression Rate) which penalizes schools from post season play and scholarships for poor academic performance, retention, and graduation percentages. After two and a half years at the private school sector I left for the public school sector and had the most progressive years of my high school career. When I say progression I don't just mean stats on the field but rather mentally and socially because I was no longer being used for my athletic ability and teachers weren't being pressured to "give" me grades so I was able to have positive relationships with them and I knew they actually cared for my well being to succeed after my high school and collegiate career. I played college football at the highest level and had a successful playing career. Academically I earned a bachelors and master's degree in five years with honors. Today I have a successful and well paying career and I can honestly say it was what I learned from my teachers at the public school.

But to answer the topic at hand it is definitely time to separate Public and Private Schools in Florida. If you look at the primary recruiting areas around the country such as California, Virginia, and Texas they all have separate leagues for the two entities. It levels the playing field now because now the Private Schools would be competing against teams that have the same resources to recruit/bring in players around the country with scholarships, and no boundary restrictions which Public Schools have...for example Lamarcus Joyner travels over an hour from Miami to Broward everyday to attend St. Thomas. I can guarantee that if St Thomas was in an All-Private School League Joyner and the many others that transferred to STA wouldn't have done so.

Option B:
If the FHSAA doesn't want to create two separate leagues then the next option would be to enforce that all student-athletes at private institutions cannot be allowed to receive scholarships, "added benefits," or "financial aid" of any type to attend private schools. If the student athlete opts to receive any of those benefits then the student athlete should only be allowed to participate at a public institution in the child's zoned boundary school for athletic activities and events. This now shows that the child if he can not afford to attend a private school now they can do so but just for his/her education and not for athletic purposes. Once this rule is in place and "If" there is suspicion that a student-athlete is receiving financial aid then it would the private schools responsibility to show evidence that the guardian or parent is the individual that is truly paying for the child to attend the school (receipts, bank statements, proof of income, etc). It's not a difficult process to separate the two leagues just look at the NCAA for an example: The football teams at D-IAA all have a set number of scholarships (63) that they can not exceed and if they do then it is now a serious violation resulting in a forfeit of games, and suspension from post season play. For the teams that opt not to participate in scholarships they have their own conferences such as the Northeast Conference, Pioneer, IVY League, and other Mid-Major D-IAA conferences. These teams because they are not at the same advantage as their league counterparts (CAA, MEAC, OVC, Big Sky) do not participate in the NCAA Playoff's instead there's the mythical Mid-Major Sports Network Cup which is awarded to the top Mid-Major football team.

The time is now to make the change. I can guarantee that if either of these options is utilized by the FHSAA, BCAA, and GMAC then the quality of high school football in Florida will only get better. The playing field will be leveled and public schools will get a wealth of their talent back. What is the common denominator with teams such as Miami Pace, St. Thomas, Jacksonville Bolles, Trinity Christian (Tallahassee), American Heritage, Cardinal Gibbons, Chaminade, Glades Day, American Heritage- Delray, Pine Crest...THEY ALL benefit year to year in athletics through the means of giving scholarships. If you look at this list you will notice that all these teams have been consistent contenders year to year for the state championship in many sports not just football. If sport heavy states such as Texas, Virginia, and California are able to make the two leagues function appropriately and effectively then Florida can do the same thing if not better.


I've Lived Both Worlds


I'm not sure we should judge the concepts of this matter, but more each case in particular. In some countries, for example, public schools are much better than the private ones, in matter of education and performance.


I have been a high school coach for twenty six years. Most of my time in private schools, coach football, basketball, softball. Yes some of the private schools are guilty of recruiting Look at Heritage!!!! They had a girl move from a bittime basketball team from the west coast of Florida to play for them, cost of tuition 0000. pUBLIC SCHOOLS ALSO BREAK RULES WITH SPECIAL CLASSES USING OTHER ADDRESSES AND MANY MORE VIOLATIONS SO LETS SAY IT LIKE IT IS. nUMEROUS COACHES FORGOT WHY THEY GOT INTO THIS PROFESSION AND NOW DONT CARE ABOUT THE KIDS!!!!!

Inside Observer

This comment is coming to you from a person who years ago was an athlete (football, basketball & track) beginning in the little league parks, went on to play in the public school system, then transferred, played & graduated from a private school. I also played Division I football & ran track and have come back years later to coach at a public school and now coach at a private school. I also am a parent of a two boys, ages 6 & 9 and who are pretty good athletes themselves. I agree alot with the first comment posted by College Coach. I can tell you from first hand knowledge that this recruiting thing for kids (especially football) is out of control. It is really ridiculous. My son is 9 and people are calling me asking to sign up at this park or that park. It's crazy.

As far as the high school recruiting goes, one of the major issues that presents the biggest problem is that the rules that are currently in place are a little antiquated & do not reflect the current state of affairs. On top of that, they are a little one-sided and unfair. Let me explain. The BCAA rules that are in place, as far as recruiting, only apply to public schools. Even though they attempt to get around those rules (with moderate success) by taking advantage of the so-called magnet programs, if a high school is caught "recruiting" they will face a penalty. However, private schools can outright and blatantly recruit any child or talk to any parent about having a kid go to their school at any time and any place. In fact, we had a kid that was labeled as Broward's Super 11 that was approached after practice right in our own parking lot by these oh so "righteous" private schools as they hide behind the "education component" that in some cases is B.S. A perfect example of this, is Lamarcus Joyner, who couldn't get into Columbus or Gulliver Prep for academic reasons but enrolled in St. Thomas. Another example is the DB, Ronnie Kennedy who enrolled at Plantation High for his senior year, began working out with the football progam during the summer months, but when Plantation finally got his transcript, he had a 1.9 GPA and was ineligible. However, he enrolls at a private school (STA), and someway, somehow, he was eligible to play football. Since private schools like St. Thomas, have been doing this for years and building an incredible program (as well as raising lots of money, because let's face it, it's big business), the other private schools figured, "if they can do it, why not us" and the race was on. Now you have American Heritage, Cardinal Gibbons, North Broward Prep, Columbus, Gulliver Prep, etc. have all jumped in the race. Even the prestigious Pine Crest has jumped into it. Years ago, there might have been 7 African-Americans in the entire upper school (grades 7-12), however, if you have seen their most recent baskeball team, you will see 8 on the team alone. Same with American Heritage's baskeball team, who by the way recruited Kenny Boykin from Ely high school.

In most cases, it is good for the kids, because they do get a good education and that environment probably puts them in a better position to succeed. However, it should be a level playing field for all schools, private and public. That is why people get so fired up about, coaches, parents, administrators, boosters, alumni, etc. Some schools can do it while others can't. Some kids get to play while others won't. Recruiting now is a part of our community, our society, our culture. It is going to happen and no one is going to stop it. So, since it is what it is, we should embrace, cultivate and control it. If we do not separate the the two school systems, private from public, like football powerhouse states, Texas, California, Virgina and basketball powerhouse state, like New York, so everyone can compete on the same level, using the same or similiar resources, then let's set up a system where everyone has at least the opportunity.

Here is a system that might work. Make recruiting in high school, similar to college recruiting. Put a limit on the number of "recruits" / "transfers" for each school and use the classification system already in place to determine that number. 6A/5A will be similiar to Div 1A; 4A/3A schools will be like - Div 1AA; 2A/2B schools - Div II; 1A/1B schools - Div III. Recruited players for public schools will be determined by # of "transfers" for that school. "Transfers" will be considered as any student outside of that school's district. To keep everyone honest, any student that wants to change school districts will be considered a "transfer." If they do NOT want to be considered a transfer, they would have to petition BCAA to change their status. BCAA would do a small investigation and then approve the petition (which is actually in place now to keep kids from "following a coach," however, it's not widely enforced on all moves). This petition process will require people to submit legal notorized documents, fill out legal binding forms and take up a lot of time, and therefore should deter people from using the fake addresses that are being used now. Coaches will become more protective of these "transfers" because it will take away from the number of recruited players that they are allowed to have and want on their team. It will also deter a kid along with a coach or family member or "street agent" from pushing a kid from school to school, i.e. moving from B.A. to Dillard & back to B.A. year in and year out, without ever changing their physical address. Petition proces will require more documentation than the simple mailing address proof change that is currently required.

Recruited players for private schools will be determined by "scholarships" given. To keep them honest, "scholarships" will be considered as ANY money, gratutities, favors or any assistance whatsoever (pick up/delivery service, donations, meals, entertainment, etc). This will avoid schools like STA (along with their boosters, alumni and "friends of the program") from going over the top with heavy recruiting tatics i.e paying for tuition -- fully or partially, giving gifts, manipulating grades, providing services, or whatever they have been known to do in the past to stack their entire athletic programs with all "recruited" or scholarship athletes. They still will have same incredible program, they just won't go three & four deep at every position. Some of the kids that actually pay to go the school and are not recruited may actually sniff the fooball field instead of being #6 or #7 on the depth chart.

If any school is in violation of the set terms, they will lose the number of "recruited" players. Any complaints of foul play or breaking the rules can be submitted anonymously (to protect whistleblowers) to the BCAA for review. However, complaints that are filed should have some sort of evidential material accompanied with it before the board is to move forward with a full investigation, which should deter arbitrary, random, hearsay complaints. Basically, only "real" issues will be looked into, not he say, she say stuff that have no substantial proof behind it. This system can be tweaked and adjusted but the concept will at least give all schools an equal playing field and it can be used for all sports. Coaches will really have to coach up their kids and build their programs through strategic recruiting to get the kids that fit into their style of play and their program as a whole. Coaches will also be very mindful of any kid that transfers into the school and participate in their programs because it could count against their total allotment of eligible recruits. Kids will also have to be a little more accountable & discipline because they will not be able to go from school to school as easy. They would have to really look at the school, coach and system and see if it works for them, just like they do when they are picking their colleges. Most importantly, everyone will have a dam good opportunity to be successful and have good competitive programs with very good success. It will come down to the choices that are made, from coaching staff, to administration and fan support to type of program. South Florida has a wealth of talent and just like there are very successful and not so successful college programs, it will be the same on the high school level. There is still enough talent for the STA's of the world to build an unbelievable program while at the same time leveling the playing field and give more opportunity for everyone involved.


A honest guy, concerned parent and coach

Thomas Payne

I agree with what everyone here is saying. Let's have a private school league and a public school league. How is sit fair for Columbus to be placed in a district of public school teams and they win it every year. Why, because they can go all over the county picking up kids from different parks and public schools with no penalties. They have the luxury of being able to field a freshman, Junior Varsity, and Varsity teams with 60 kids per team. On the other hand public school teams struggle to field Junior Varsity teams and varsity teams that have the numbers to come close to that. Level playing field Coach Merrit? I don't think so. With that kind of team you should be competing for the State Championship every year. Let's place Columbus, Gulliver, Carroll, and Belen into their own league with their own classifications. Why Not?? Other states do it.

Mike Thomas

I am having a hard time reading some of these posts. I am the father of three sons who played football in Dade County. The recruitment of players was done MUCH more by public School coachs between 7th and 10th grades then any private school coach's. It would be very easy to list names of players in this blog that were recruited from parks, or private schools that ended up in public schools no where near where they lived, or in their district. Do you really think all those athletes at northwestern, central, etc. are not using aunts, uncles, grandmothers, or gardians address's. Also what is the penalty for transferring 2 or 3 times in a high school career? There is no penalty, or no play period if a public school recruits a kid from a private school. My kids went to private school, and I know of 8 - 10 kids that were starting at public schools in 11th grade after playing in private school in 10th.....is that fair? larger public schools cherry pick the smaller private schools. To the point of practices......if you played football, coached football, or were a parent please do not tell me you did not have unsupervised "conditioning" in the off season. Just because no official school employee or coach was not at practice does not mean you where not practicing. Today is June 18th, 2009 and I know of at least 10 public and private schools who are having scheduled "unofficial" practices. I assume there are 10 times that many.


Public or private, high school is great. I have a very efficient method to keep in touch with my friends from high school: social networking sites. And they are also a good way to make new friends!


For teenagers, none of this is important. High school is, through friends, the best period of one's life.

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