Exactly when Valley Christian High School transformed from a likeable little parochial school into a trophy-hungry athletic factory is unclear, but the Trojans are not well-liked by public schools in the 2A Conference.
And as private schools such as Valley rack up 2A state championships, the call for the Arizona Interscholastic Association to step in and level the playing field is growing louder.
“It was OK when you were struggling to win, but now that you are winning, now we have to take care of you,” said Valley Christian principal Clark Stephens of the view other schools have of the Trojans. “Somehow, this feels like this is some kind of punishment.”
On one hand, Valley Christian represents what is right in high school athletics: Highachieving students who also do great things in the athletic arena.
On the other, the Chandler school represents the widening gap between small, rural schools and their predominantly metropolitan, private counterparts.
“I saw where Valley Christian had two football players, one going to Harvard and another going to Brown,” St. Johns athletic director Dale Meyers said of Trojans J.P. Grako and Philip Roffi. “We don’t have that kind of athlete that has that kind of academics. We don’t have that here.”
The AIA is considering ways to address the perceived competitive imbalance in 2A. Among the ideas is a multiplier that, when applied to private and charter schools, would force many of those schools to move up to 3A.
Private schools would have their enrollments multiplied by 1.5 and the new number would determine their conference placement. While that idea is far from becoming a reality, steps are already being taken to prevent it.
Arizona House Bill 2772 prohibits any public or charter school in Arizona from contracting with any organization that does not count each student equally. It was proposed by Steven Yarbrough (RChandler) as a way of preventing the AIA from using a multiplier, even if the schools in Arizona want one.
“I believe the concept of a multiplier is fundamentally unfair,” said Yarbrough, who served on the Valley Christian school board for 24 years. “In my view, I don’t believe that we should be saying that some kids are more valuable than others.”
AIA executive director Harold Slemmer called the bill “an overreaction to an event that has not taken place.”
“This idea has been around a while and we wouldn’t jump into using it unless we were sure that the membership wanted it,” Slemmer said.
The House is scheduled to vote on HB 2772 this week. If passed, it will move to the Arizona Senate for another round of votes.
Meanwhile, the AIA will hold a reclassification committee meeting Feb. 22, when the results of a statewide survey on reclassification will be discussed. If the majority of AIA members want to use the multiplier, the fate of that idea will be tied to the fate of HB 2772.
WHAT SEPARATES THEM?
Since 2000 there have been 97 state champions crowned in the 2A Conference. Of the championships, 59 have gone to private schools — 61 percent of the titles won by schools that make up just 38 percent of the 2A membership.
When viewing just the past three years, that number jumps to 79 percent, including 88 percent of the boys championships.
“Our membership is concerned that the small, private schools in 2A are dominating,” Slemmer said. “When they do play a rural public school in the playoffs, it’s usually a blowout.”
The central question in the debate is always: Why are private schools winning so much?
It depends on who you ask.
“The problem is the fact that they have a lot of people in the metro areas to draw from and here we have about 5,000 people to draw from,” Thatcher athletic director Hal Mullenaux said. “For us to try to compete with a school that has kids from well-to-do backgrounds is difficult.”
The biggest advantage of living in a metropolitan area is the availability of private coaches, camps, clinics and club teams — and a student body with the financial means to afford them.
Those things are few and far between in rural parts of Arizona.
“We might have 10 students doing club sports and when we do, we have to travel 30-50 miles just to play our club sports,” Meyers said. “And as far as coaches, we have to go out into the community and seek out some of our high school coaches.”
But Scottsdale Christian Academy boys basketball coach and athletic director Bob Fredericks thinks the current trend of private school dominance is temporary.
“Just like private schools were not at an inherent disadvantage in the 1990s, rural schools are not at a disadvantage today,” Fredericks said.
In the ’90s, private schools accounted for just 33 percent of the state championship teams in 2A (49 of 147). It was during that time of public school dominance that private schools were just building their programs.
“We took our lumps, drove all over everywhere and got beat up from time to time,” Stephens said. “There was a time here where we didn’t have a field, gymnasium or anything, but Valley kept growing its program and now all of a sudden we have advantages.”
Fredericks, who has been at Scottsdale Christian for 21 years, points to his team that won back-to-back boys state basketball championships as an example of how some of the recent success for private schools is just coincidence.
On last season’s team, Fredericks had four players earn Division I scholarships. Tim Maiden and Nkem Ojouboh went to Texas-San Antonio, Chris Osborn to the Air Force Academy and current senior Kevin Coble has signed to go to Northwestern.
“We never had one Division-I-recruited athlete before last year’s team,” Fredericks said. “It was just a unique blessing to have four on the same team.”
Whispers of recruiting followed Scottsdale Christian the past few years, but Fredericks dismissed those because he watched those players develop.
“Most of our players were in our school since elementary,” Fredericks said. “Tim Maiden was 5-foot-1, 100 pounds as a freshman, Chris Osborn was cut from our junior high team and Nkem didn’t play basketball until he was a freshman.
“I think the level to which last year’s team developed sort of feeds the frenzy of opinion that there is an inherent advantage.”
Private schools offer one more argument on their behalf. Because Arizona has open enrollment, in which freshmen are free to attend any school, having to pay for tuition can be a detriment to attracting students.
“If we don’t do a good job, people will go somewhere else,” Stephens said. “My kids can stop coming to Valley tomorrow and enroll down the street.
“We’ve worked very hard to build our programs for excellence.”
The Arizona Interscholastic Association is enrollments of greater than 450. That considering using a multiplier (taking a move was met by a lawsuit brought by 37 school’s enrollment and multiplying it by a parochial schools.
In the end, the lawsuit factor such as 1.5) to determine the was settled and the schools agreed to classification of private and charter abide by a statewide vote of all member schools. This has been used in other states schools. That vote produced a wide victory across the country where private schools in favor of implementing the multiplier for were winning a disproportionate amount of all nonboundaried schools. state championships. Here’s how some Missouri other states have taken to the multiplier.
Indiana Missouri began using a multiplier of 1.35 in 2002 and it has had an effect on the Currently in the same situation as Arizona, number of private school championships, considering a 1.5 multiplier. But Indiana has albeit a small one.
Since the multiplier also discussed splitting the public and went into effect, the percentage of private private schools, something not even school champions fell from 34 percent to considered in Arizona. 32.5 percent. This multiplier rule was challenged in court but was upheld.
In March 2005 the Illinois High School Association Executive Board passed a In 2005, the Arkansas Activities measure that would implement a multiplier Association voted to increase its multiplier of 1.65 for nonboundaried schools with from 1.35 to 1.75.