York Catholic head coach Eric Depew discusses the state of the Fighting Irish program after a 56-23 playoff loss to powerhouse Southern Columbia. JACOB CALVIN MEYER, 717-505-5406/@jcalvinmeyer
What’s the most important score to come out of the PIAA football playoff weekend?
It’s not any score from any quarterfinal-round game played.
The score that matters most to so many is 15-9.
That’s the number of public schools left in the state tournament in the six classes entering the semifinals compared to the number of private or charter schools remaining. Some will quickly point out that the nine private or nonboundary schools left are disproportionate to the overall numbers.
The totals on each side will be scrutinized as the number is reduced to 12 this weekend and again to six on state championship weekend, Dec. 6-8, in Hershey.
The minute the quarterfinals ended Saturday, the now commonplace outrage was all over social media about how unfair it is for a public school to have to compete against “an all-star team.”
It’ll happen again in March when the state basketball championships unfold in Hershey.
Meanwhile, the PIAA Equity group, which emerged this past summer, continues to press the PIAA and state legislature on separating the boundary schools from the nonboundary schools and holding two different state championships.
This issue has been casting a cloud over high school sports for more than 20 years. We’ve lost leagues and rivalries within those leagues because of it.
I have listened to people on both sides for more than 20 years and understand their positions.
Feeling of fatigue and sadness: What I come away with is a sense of fatigue from the topic and sadness because in a divisive world filled with rancor, high school sports should be a unifier instead of another way to divide us.
The incessant snarling, particularly at this time of year, detracts from the athletes, the coaches and everything good in scholastic athletics.
Rather than admiring the excellence of athletes, coaches and teams, the gripes of an uneven playing field drown out everything else.
My concern is that in a world where no place seems totally safe, including the schools themselves, the bitterness will lead to violence and tragedy after a game involving public and non-public schools, especially in the emotional moments that often come with the end of a season.
I don’t have the answers. Certainly, the PIAA doesn’t either or this problem would have vanished decades ago.
A few observations: But a few observations after following this stuff for decades:
►Those who say there is an uneven playing field are right in the sense that a private or charter school obviously has the ability to attract kids from a larger area compared to schools that can only draw from within their designated boundaries.
►No matter the rules, student-athletes, and more importantly, their parents, are going to go where they want to go. Kids are looking for places where they are going to have a chance to play. No one wants to ride the bench anymore and the days of kids staying where parents, grandparents or other relatives attended just for the sake of tradition are long gone.
►Too many student-athletes and their parents believe athletic scholarships are more plentiful than they are and often transfer for the wrong reasons. Athletics should almost never take precedence over academics, yet there is a sense among too many that athletics are the only path to college.
►Holding separate tournaments will not deter kids from transferring to schools they believe will provide the most exposure for their college potential because whether they’re winning Class 4-A in a public school tournament or Class 2-A in a nonboundary tournament, it’s the college scouts that matter most to many.
►Charges of recruiting are hard to prove, unless there’s evidence of emails, text messages or something more than just word-of-mouth. I know a lot of parents who loved to brag “Yeah, this school and that school tried to recruit my son” just so they could puff up their own egos.
►There seems to be a different philosophy about high school sports in Philadelphia than there is in most other parts of the state. There is much more student-athlete movement in Philly, including from public to public schools, than anywhere else.
►The kids don’t care nearly as much as the adults about this stuff. Surveys have been done showing public school administrators and coaches want separate tournaments and believe the current way is unfair, but I am not so sure how obsessed the kids are. The majority of them I know want to compete against the best and would much rather take their shot against a St. Joe’s Prep or Imhotep than win a watered-down state title against lesser competition.
►There was a time in the 1990s when the Bethlehem public schools refused to schedule Bethlehem Catholic and Allentown Central Catholic. It seemed to me that kind of policy hurt their own kids who would have loved to compete against their friends who were Golden Hawks or Vikings and instead heard things like “you guys are afraid to play us.”
►The PIAA is concerned about litigation when it comes to separating the tournaments and would prefer the state legislature do it. The PIAA also knows that public schools tend to draw many more people to events than private or charter schools and lose money when you have Philadelphia teams — private or public — competing in state tournament games as opposed to traditional public schools from smaller, tight-knit towns such as Hazleton.
Kids need louder voice: Yes, I know that none of these observations are particularly new or offer solutions but we need to be reminded of certain things and I wish the kids would have a louder voice in this.
All I know is that all of the 24 remaining teams, public and private, are outstanding football programs who made their own communities proud over the past 14 weeks. It’s a shame their excellence isn’t more of the focus.