By BRIAN CARSON
I never had an opinion or took a stand in the public vs. private school debate. My view was instead of complaining; public schools should improve and go out and beat the private schools.
Now, I’m changing my tune. Because wrestling, which for a long time wasn’t affected by the private school problem like football and basketball are, has turned a corner. Before, you had Bethlehem Catholic, and that was it.
Boy, has it changed.
The top-ranked 3A team in the state is BECAHI. The top 2A team is Notre Dame Green-Pond. In 2A, private schools own three spots in the top five: the Crusaders, Faith Christian (No. 2), and Bishop McDevitt (No. 5).
Add to the mix Wyoming Seminary and Malvern Prep, who, despite not being PIAA, are still major players in the recruiting being done by the private schools.
The stark disparity in success between private and public schools in sports is clear. Private schools, comprising only 20% of state schools, have taken a disproportionate share of the state titles: 77% of basketball championships and 42% of football. This is a direct result of the unbalanced opportunity given to students.
The problem with private school recruiting in high school wrestling is their ability to cherry-pick the best wrestlers from all over the country, while state boundaries restrict public schools. This lets private schools assemble “dream teams” of elite wrestlers, giving them an unfair advantage and making it almost impossible for public schools to compete.
This recruiting advantage is devastating for public schools, as it limits the pool of potential wrestlers and makes it harder for them to compete at the highest level. Public school teams are often made up of athletes from within their district or boundary, which means they don’t have access to the same talent level as private schools.
The result of this is that private schools have begun to dominatethe sport, winning state and dual meet championships consistently. This was highlighted when eight of the top ten teams at last weekend’s Escape the Rock, one of the most prestigious high school wrestling tournaments in Pennsylvania, were private schools. This is a clear sign the gap between private and public schools is widening, and it’s getting worse for public schools in PA.
This trend is not only limited to the Escape the Rock tournament, but can be seen throughout the state in other wrestling competitions as well.
This trend is not limited to the state of Pennsylvania. It is happening in other states too, where private schools have builtteams of elite wrestlers who have a significant advantage over their public school counterparts.
Private schools occupy three of the top five slots in Mat Scouts National Top Ten with Blair Academy and Wyoming Seminary at 1-2. Malvern Prep comes in at No. 5.
All you have to do to see the absurdity of it all is cast your gaze to Western Pennsylvania at Bishop McCort. The Crimson Crushers were so openly and blatantly dealing in improper recruiting that the PIAA District 6 Committee had no choice but to put the program on probation.
The Committee suspended wrestling coach Bill Bassett and handed a two-year postseason ban to the wrestling team because of alleged violations of the PIAA’s rules about transfers and recruiting.
Kids came to McCort from New Jersey, Florida, and North Carolina. How would a student-athlete from those places know who the hell Bishop McCort is or where it‘s located?
In all fairness, McCort’s administrative staff did self-report the incident. Kudos to them for doing so.
Still, when they come off probation, McCort will be a powerhouse and a legit contender for the 2A team title. Throw in Notre Dame-Green Pond and Faith Christian, and they will be the top three in the state for Class 2A.
Faith Christian came out of nowhere the last couple of years and finished ahead of Bethlehem Catholic at Escape the Rock. Can you believe that? The Lions have a male enrollment of 94, and they finish ahead of Bethlehem Catholic.
A heads up: They have four of the top 10 middle school wrestlers in the state, according to PA Wrestling Word, including top-ranked Joe Bachmann.
So, what we can do to level the playing field? One solution is to impose stricter rules on recruiting.
For example, private schools could be required to only recruit within their state boundaries or be subject to stricter penalties for recruiting violations. These restrictions could include limitations on the number of out-of-state or international students that can be recruited and additional requirements for eligible transfers.
I admit. I don’t have a definitive answer to the problem and the PIAA has zero intentions of creating separate state tournaments for public and private schools.
Public schools don’t get off the hook, either. There is recruiting in public institutions as well. It’s just harder to do because of all the rules in place.
No matter, this will not go away anytime soon. The powers that be, namely the PIAA, need to take a step back and work towards finding a solution