To claim Lakeside High School had a banner sports year is putting it mildly.
Despite all of the school's success, however, Lakeside was not the top sports program in Class AAAA this past year. That distinction -- winner of the Governor's Cup competition for excellence across all sports -- went to Marist, a private school in Atlanta known for its athletic prowess.
If Marist weren't allowed to compete with public schools, Lakeside likely would have won the Governor's Cup. In previous years, Marist often acted as a roadblock on Lakeside's path to sports glory.
This brings up a debate that has raged throughout the state for years: Should private schools be able to compete in public school leagues, and if so, under what guidelines?
One of the more vocal -- and influential -- individuals to tackle the issue was the late former state House Speaker Tom Murphy. According to a story on the recruiting Web site MaxPreps.com, the public-private debate first exploded in 1999 when Murphy "strong-armed the (Georgia High School Association) into employing a 1.5 multiplier on the enrollment numbers of private schools, forcing many of them to play in higher classifications." So a school with 1,000 students would have to claim an enrollment of 1,500 for classification purposes.
According to a 2007 article in the Catholic Education journal, Murphy was upset after his daughter-in-law's public school debate team was defeated by a private school in competition, giving him the impetus to bring about legislation.
After Murphy's death in 2007, the state Legislature pressured the GHSA to remove the 1.5 multiplier, according to the MaxPreps article, which featured a quote from longtime Lincoln County football coach Larry Campbell.
"Without the multiplier, it looks like they're going to dominate forever," Georgia's all-time leader in football coaching victories said at the time regarding private schools.
There's no doubting that some private schools have facilities that make even those of nicer public schools look bad in comparison. As for the complaint from some that private schools can hand-pick and recruit the athletes they want, the claim is untrue, said Franklin Pridgen, football coach at private school Wesleyan.
"It is illegal, unethical and completely contrary to our stated mission, so therefore we do not do it," Pridgen was quoted in the MaxPreps article. "There are no scholarships given for athletics or academics. Financial aid is need-based."
The argument is a tough one.
On the one hand, why should public schools, with limited budgets and the ability to draw students only from their given district, compete on the same playing field with private schools, which at times have greater budgets and the ability to draw students from wherever they choose?
On the other hand, let's say the GHSA allows only public schools to compete in its leagues, which typically get more exposure and interest from college recruiters.
Then, what if a student-athlete decided to attend a private school for its academic rigor but also hoped to play collegiate athletics? That school would by rule not compete in the state's highest competitive leagues, and that athlete might then have less access to college scouts.
Murphy's 1.5 multiplier seemed arbitrary. Why 1.5, and not 1.3 or 2.0? Perhaps one solution could be to use a private school's number of applicants, rather than its actual student enrollment. In a way, the number of applicants is the pool of potential students from which the schools draw.
Marist, for example, competes in AAAA with a student population of 1,076 students. According to the school's Web site, the school usually admits about 50 percent of its applicants. The cutoff for Class AAAAA is 1,900 students.
By no means is this idea an airtight solution; it is merely a thought on how to solve the dilemma.
Maybe there isn't a right answer. I certainly don't have one.
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