Pri­vate school dom­i­na­tion in foot­ball is fast be­com­ing a pub­lic con­cern

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Eric Sond­heimer

Wel­come to the era of pri­vate school dom­i­na­tion in high school sports. The ques­tion is how long pub­lic school sup­port­ers are go­ing to be able to bite their tongues while wait­ing to see if this is merely a cy­cle or a sys­tem­atic change.

The CIF Open Di­vi­sion state cham­pi­onship foot­ball bowl game match­ing De La Salle of Con­cord against Mater Dei of Santa Ana in an 8 p.m. clash Satur­day at Cer­ri­tos Col­lege marks the first time in the 13-year his­tory of the bowl series that the up­per di­vi­sion fi­nal will have been lim­ited to pri­vate schools for three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons.

“Prob­a­bly, in this day and age, the way things are go­ing, it’s go­ing to stay awhile,” Cen­ten­nial- Corona coach Matt Lo­gan said.

It might be hard to be­lieve but when the bowl series was cre­ated, pub­lic schools made the cham­pi­onship game for the first four years, with Canyon of Canyon Coun­try stun­ning De La Salle 27-13 in the in­au­gu­ral Di­vi­sion I cham­pi­onship game in 2006. Cen­ten­nial made it in 2007.

The only time two pub­lic schools faced off in the Open Di­vi­sion fi­nal was 2008: Grant of Sacra­mento vs. Long Beach Poly. Then Cren­shaw, led by De’An­thony Thomas, made it from the City Sec­tion in 2009.

What’s hap­pened over the last 10 years in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia is pretty clear: Top play­ers are be­ing lured from pub­lic schools to pri­vate schools with prom­ises of fi­nan­cial aid, trans­porta­tion help and bet­ter col­lege schol­ar­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Pub­lic schools still have free tu­ition, free books and the ad­van­tage of be­ing in the neigh­bor­hood, but Uber, van pools and Metro link trains have made it pos­si­ble to live far away from a school but still at­tend it. By mak­ing it eas­ier to trans­fer, the Cal­i­for­nia In­ter­scholas­tic Fed­er­a­tion has made it pos­si­ble for cer­tain schools to avoid re­build­ing years, be­cause all they need to do is re­place grad­u­at­ing se­niors with a few trans­fer stu­dents.

“Can the most tal­ented pub­lic school com­pete with the most tal­ented pri­vate school? Yes but it is go­ing to be the ex­cep­tion and the gap will spread wider,” said for­mer Canyon coach Harry

Welch.

So here we are with lit­tle sign of any changes tak­ing place. There are 1,202 pub­lic schools and 404 pri­vate schools in the CIF. It’s an in­sider’s game be­ing played, and pub­lic schools have been caught off guard.

The CIF’s so­lu­tion is to keep adding play­off di­vi­sions so pub­lic schools get to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship, just not at the high­est level. It’s called com­pet­i­tive eq­uity. In this year’s bowl games, out of 49 schools com­pet­ing, 13 are pri­vate schools.

“It’s giv­ing our schools a chance to com­pete,” said Roger Blake, the CIF’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

In North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the com­pe­ti­tion is for se­cond place. De La Salle has won 27 con­sec­u­tive North Coast Sec­tion foot­ball cham­pi­onships and hasn’t lost to an NCS school since 1991 — a string of

298 con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries. Does South­ern Cal­i­for­nia want a sim­i­lar fate?

Some peo­ple want to sep­a­rate pub­lic and pri­vate schools dur­ing play­off com­pe­ti­tion. It’s done in sev­eral states. But Lo­gan, who has put to­gether one of the few pub­lic school pro­grams at Cen­ten­nial that can suc­cess­fully com­pet­ing against the best, said he would op­pose that idea.

“I get it,” he said. “At the same time, as a com­peti­tor, you want to play the best. We’ve worked our way up and are proud to com­pete but want to have the abil­ity to com­pete.”

The Open Di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship game on Satur­day will fea­ture plenty of fu­ture col­lege stand­outs. It’s clearly the No. 1 team in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia go­ing against the No. 1 team in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Cel­e­brate the idea of best go­ing against best.

Be­hind the scenes, though, un­der­stand it is nowhere near an even play­ing field at the high­est level of high school sports in Cal­i­for­nia.

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