State considers splitting public, private tournaments

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Area athletic directors against measure on MSHSAA spring ballot.

A lot can change in 10 years.

In 1997, seven different proposals to split the softball, football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, track and field and baseball state tournaments into separate public and private tournaments failed, with none garnering more than 40 percent of the vote.

During the last 10 years, a multiplier of 1.35 has been voted in to limit the supposed advantages private schools have over public schools and level the playing field. The multiplier means the private school's enrollment is multiplied by the variable to determine which class the school will compete in. For instance, if a private school had an enrollment of 100, it would be multiplied by 1.35, giving it 135, so the school would compete with other schools that had an enrollment of 135 instead of schools with an enrollment of 100.

Private schools still enjoy state success at a disproportionate rate, especially in sports such as golf, soccer and tennis since the multiplier was introduced.

Now another, broader proposal, is appearing on the annual Missouri State High School Activities Association ballot and threatening to change the face of MSHSAA. The proposal will create a split of all state tournaments between public and private schools with the exception of football. Results from the annual ballot should be made public in early May.

"That's one we're definitely keeping our eye on," MSHSAA spokesman Rick Kindhart said. "It will have a tremendous impact on how we do things. Of the 31 issues [on the ballot], that's probably the one that has the biggest impact on every school in the state."

Ballots are due to MSHSAA by May 1, leaving a few weeks before the more than 70 MSHSAA private schools learn if they will play in their own state tournaments. The areas with the greatest concentration of private schools lie in St. Louis and Kansas City, two areas that will have a great impact on the vote.

"What a lot of people don't realize is this has been talked about before," Jackson athletic director Kevin Bohnert said. "The big catalysts in the metro areas of St. Louis and Kansas City are not in favor of it, and they carry a lot of votes."

The concept of two separate tournaments under one state association would be unique. Kindhart said he does not know of any states that have separate tournaments under one organization.

There are several states that do play separate state tournaments, according to reports in the Jefferson City News Tribune. Texas has separate titles run by different organizations. In New York, there are four different organizations that crown champions. Virginia has a public-only organization and several organizations for non-public schools. New Jersey has several organizations, and in some sports, the winners play each other to crown an overall champion.

While early buzz seemed to show a lot of support for the proposal throughout the state, more recent talk has centered around a shift in thinking.

"I think early on there was a sense it would pass, and now I don't know if that sense is a strong one," Central athletic director Mark Ruark said.

Of the more than 70 private schools in the state, three are located in Southeast Missouri. Notre Dame, Saxony Lutheran and St. Vincent have 15 state titles between them.

Athletic directors from Cape Central and Perryville High School, which are the public counterparts to Notre Dame and St. Vincent, have both shown support for the private schools.

"Right now Perryville is not for it," Perryville athletic director Jeff Steffens said of the proposal. "Right now our school doesn't see St. Vincent doing anything incorrectly. They have feeder schools."

If the state tournaments were to split that would cause shifts in classification and added travel for the area private schools. The nearest private school to the north is Valle Catholic in Ste. Genevieve, with St. Louis-area schools likely the next closest.

Some St. Louis-area private school athletic directors suggested the possibility of some schools leaving MSHSAA if the vote passes, according to a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"My concern the whole time is the [private] schools may pull out of MSHSAA if they split the public and private," Central's Ruark said.

Area athletic directors are taking a wait-and-see approach for now.

"I can see good points on both sides," Notre Dame athletic director Paul Hale said. "I really think the best thing is for it to stay the way it is for everybody."

Among the area public schools, it is the larger schools such as Central and Jackson that most often come up against private schools in the playoffs. Jackson's girls soccer and basketball teams have been eliminated by the likes of private powerhouse St. Joseph's Academy in recent years.

Still, Bohnert does not favor the split.

"If we're going to play in a state tournament, I want the best schools there," he said. "I don't want it split. I just think it takes away from the atmosphere."

There is currently a committee that has met several times to discuss other alternatives to splitting the state tournaments. If the proposal does pass, though, it will have to stay in affect for at least the two-year district cycle.

The simple fact there is a proposal on the annual ballot shows some change likely is necessary.

"I think there's going to have to be a change," Bohnert said. "The state just can't sit on it for another three years. If they don't address it then a major issue could come to pass. I think the state has enough insight not to sit on this."

A vote to separate the tournaments will not only have a major affect on the schools, but also on the MSHSAA as well. Dates and sites will have to be refigured and new districts will need to be determined.

"At this point it's wait and take one step at a time. Let the schools voice their opinions," MSHSAA's Kindhart said. "We can't control what the schools do. We just have to move forward. Our goal is to move forward and play and administer the state tournament."

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