Three private schools accounted for 75 percent of the area's top four state finishes this past year

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The 2004-05 high school athletic year was the year of the private school in Southeast Missouri. While only three of the area's 19 Missouri State High School Activities Association member schools are private, those three schools brought home two state titles and three-fourths of the area's state trophy haul.

St. Vincent, Notre Dame Regional High School and Saxony Lutheran combined for six top-four finishes during this past school year. Kelly (softball) and Bell City (boys basketball) were the only public schools to bring home a top-four state finish.

"I guess this was the year for the private schools," St. Vincent athletic director/boys basketball coach Bruce Valleroy said.

It was an especially good year for St. Vincent, which brought home its first Class 1 state title in football and finished second in Class 2 boys basketball in its first trip to the state final four. St. Vincent just missed out in its bid to become only the fifth school to win basketball and football state titles in the same year.

"All in all, it was a great sports year for us," Valleroy said.

For the Indians, a strong senior class helped propel their big year. Seniors Alex Armbruster, Danny Rellergert, Jacob DeWilde and Pat Siegmund started on both the football and basketball teams. Fellow senior Luke Guyot was one of the main substitutes for the basketball squad as well as a starter on the football team.

St. Vincent's first state football title came with 12 seniors starting on at least one side of the ball. Of those seniors, Rellergert, Kline and Mark Prost earned all-state honors in football and Armbruster made all-state in basketball.

"We had 17 seniors on the football team and six on the basketball team," Valleroy said. "In football, we had a lot of experience coming back, and in basketball we had four starters back."

While there was no state title in the cards for Notre Dame this year, the Bulldogs were able to bring home three state trophies. The Bulldogs finished fourth in boys cross country and boys basketball and finished third in their first trip to the softball final four.

"It's hard work and just kids that just really want to excel -- both girls and boys," said first-year athletic director/boys basketball coach Paul Hale. "They have a lot of pride. They're just hard-working kids."

Notre Dame's success this year should come as no surprise, as the Bulldogs have had three top-four finishes four straight years. During that time Notre Dame has won two state titles -- one in boys soccer and one in girls basketball.

"Once you have success that really can help you, and Notre Dame has had success for a long time in a lot of sports," Hale said. "The kids we get come from hard-working families that take pride in their work ethic."

That success has come even as the Bulldogs made the jump from Class 2 to Class 3 and Class 4 in most sports. Private schools' enrollments are adjusted by a multiplier used by MSHSAA, counting each student at a private school as 1.35 students.

"It may be a motivating factor; it helps push private schools," Hale said of the multiplier. "It might have helped us [the boys basketball team] as far as this year. I don't believe in that small school/big school stuff. I've coached at small schools that I believed could compete at higher levels. If you've got good kids they're going to succeed. ... If you can compete at 2A, I think you can compete at any level."

Saxony Lutheran, which just completed its second year of varsity sports, brought home the school's first state title with a Class 1 cross country championship in the fall. The Crusaders nearly brought home another trophy, finishing fifth in the state track and field team standings after the 3,200 relay brought home a state crown.

Larry Cleair, who coaches both track and field and cross country as well as being athletic director, said such early success can only help the program grow stronger.

"With athletes, you get ones who've had success in other areas they're willing to put in the work it takes," he said.

Currently, Saxony Lutheran is still small enough where the multiplier does not affect it. The Crusaders, like more than half of the area's 19 schools, play their sports in Class 1, the smallest classification.

"I've told the kids we're in the smallest class, so it's going to be a little easier, but no matter what class you're in whenever you get to the top, that's when the cream rises," Cleair said.

Area public schools brought home 17 district titles this past year, but only two translated into state success. Kelly won its second state title in softball in its ninth trip to the final four. Bell City made its third trip to the final four in boys basketball in four years, finishing fourth.

While the discrepancy in top-four finishes this year did not quite mirror the results of the past four years -- public schools held a slight edge in top-four finishes -- the area's private schools have held their own over the past five years. Since the 2000-01 athletic season, private schools have 21 top-four finishes compared to 19 for public schools. Private schools also hold a slight 5-4 edge in state titles.

Jackson boys basketball coach Darrin Scott, who previously coached at Notre Dame, said while private schools can be more selective, it comes down to the talent level in your school.

"In basketball, I still think it comes down to who has the best athletes, and who works the hardest," he said. "That's who's going to win."

Hale, whose long career has included stops at several public schools in Southeast Missouri, had his own idea on what has contributed to the private schools' high success rate.

"I think it just comes from the fact you have a more family atmosphere at private schools," Hale said. "Parents are more involved. I think that may be a big factor there."

Added Valleroy: "I just think the togetherness you get here [St. Vincent]. Together they all want to succeed, play as a team. Public schools, you always have kids coming in every year coming from all different directions."

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