Thursday, May 7, 2009

Public Versus Private Schools in Arkansas*


*Wally, you probably need to read this.


On Thursday, May 7, 2009, Wally Hall published a wildly inaccurate and silly "Like It Is" about private schools and financial aid to student-athletes. We will dissect many sentences and paragraphs in that article. Please follow this link and read column yourself to make sure we are not taking the cranky old columnist out of context.

Wally wants to make this an issue of sportsmanship, which it may very well be. He probably could have used lots of examples of good sportsmanship. However, he chose to use the example of a 1974 game in which Elkins beat Winslow 48-0 but held down the score by punting the ball through the endzone when they got to the one yard line. John Bunch broke a national record in that game by rushing for 608 yards. He ran the ball 38 times. If Elkins was showing such great sportsmanship that game, then why in the world did their starting running back play the entire game and carry the ball 38 times?

Let's imagine for a second that Shiloh decided they no longer wanted to score once the game got out of hand, but instead wanted to use the Super Sportsmanlike 1974 Elkins Elks way of keeping the score down. Instead of bringing in their 4th string QB, they leave their entire first string guys in but are punting the ball through the endzone every time they get close. Is Wally going to write about how "sportsmanlike" they are because they only won 35-0 in racking up 800 yards of offense?

Our next beef is that Wally accuses Pulaski Academy (PA) of running up the score by going for it on 4th and 15 on their own 10. We have many things to say about this:
  • Most coaches do not agree with Coach Kevin Kelley when it comes to punting. They have called him a "riverboat gambler" or "crazy," AND they think that the strategy will come back to haunt him someday.

  • Coach Kelley is convinced that punting in almost any situation works AGAINST his team's chances of winning, and he has statistics to back that up.

  • It is either one or the other, but it can't be both.
Most casual observers would look at the situation and think that Coach Kelley is giving the opponents the opportunity to have the ball at the 10 yard line (going in). However, Wally views this as running up the score. What kind of screwed up logic is that?

Next, Wally accuses both Shiloh Christian (SC) and PA of running up the score. PA finished the season 13-1 and the average game was 50-26 while SC finished 13-1 and the average game was 47-14. You will see similar numbers for Junction City (a public school) or Fountain Lake (a public school). As a matter of fact, Fountain Lake won their semi-final game 70-0 over the Lavaca and Junction City beat Norphlet by that same 70-0 score. Where is the call for either of these teams to be bumped one classification OR have them play in their own playoff.

Near the end of the column Wally writes, "There is no such thing as a scholarship at a public school." Unless I am mistaken, EVERY student at the government funded schools in Arkansas attends without paying tuition. They are each provided with a "scholarship" by the same taxpayers that are sometimes paying someone else (i.e., private schools) to educate their children. By the way, the students that go to private schools don't get the benefit of that tax money. It is simply gone.

Obviously, you can see where we stand on this issue. We think that private schools should be allowed to play public schools for championships. However, we also believe that if a school, private or public, is doing anything illegal such as recruiting, then they should be harshly punished and should be banned from postseason play in all sports.

It should also be noted that if this is really an issue of "running up the score," then this should be punished across the board for anyone who is guilty. Connecticut has a rule that if a team wins by 50 or more points, then their coach is suspended the following week. We wouldn't mind seeing that rule, but we would add to it that if it happens twice, the coach be suspended for the remainder of the season. We're pretty sure the Junction Cities, Shilohs, and Fountain Lakes would be able to find a way to keep the scoreboard down if that were the case.

Lastly, we will admit that there is an issue that needs to be resolved. The answer may be to move up Shiloh and PA a class or two or all the way up to 7A. We don't have the answers, but we think it would be a black eye for Arkansas high school athletics not to include some of these very good teams in their championships among all the schools.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Have a good weekend!


  1. The scholarship thing is bogus. I know PA only offers need based financial aid of up to 30% tuition which still leaves $7k, and they don't even do the aid determination. I am sure the other privates do something similar.

  2. This same issue comes up in Louisiana quite a bit because two of the winningest programs in the state are Evangel and John Curtis which are both private schools. At John Curtis 80% of its student body participates in some typle of extra-curricular activity and this includes sports, cheerleading, spirit sqauds, symphony and band. Evangel is about 50-50.

    Both schools only have a student body of about 200-300 students which puts them in the AA classifications. Both schools chose to play up in class for many years, with Evangel playing in the highest classification Louisiana which is AAAAA and John Curtis playing in AAAA.

    In 2004,the LHSAA coaches and principals debated about whether or not to allow these schools to participate any longer in the LHSAA or create a Private School classification just for them and some of the other private schools in LA. End the end they decided to make them play down in class to their enrollment level. That thrilled the big schools, but how do you think the small schools felt when class 4A and 5A state champions are now playing AA ball? Think they felt like they had a snowball's chance?

    Needless to say, either Evangel or John Curtis has won the AA state championship the last 4 years. Now, reasonable people are going to let them move to their classification of choice as long as it is up and not down, but can remain in the classification they are in if they choose.

    My understanding is that all school athletic associations require that a student live within that district or have a parent that works at the school or within the district and are not making an extraordinary effort to have their child attend that school strictly for the athletic program. To me this is no different than majority to minority transfers, where a majority at one school can transfer to be a minority at another.

    Hopefully, Arkansas can look across the state line and learn from Louisiana's faulty reasoning and not punish the kids for being on a good sports team.

  3. I also hope the AAA really thinks about this before changing the rules for the entire state over a school with less than 200 students. It really doesn't make sense.