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Let Them Play?

You may have seen Oaks Christian High School on SportsCenter this week.  If you missed the feature, it is dubbed “Celebrity High” due to the many famous names on the roster.  Joe Montana’s son is the starting Quarterback on the Varsity and the sons of Will Smith and Wayne Gretzky are currently on the JV team.

The piece on ESPN focused on the famous names, but beneath the headlines a controversy is brewing.  Oaks Christian has been dominating its league opponents so thoroughly that they would like to switch leagues to the more competitive nearby Marmonte League.

However, the Marmonte League wants nothing to do with Christian Oaks.  The hold up centers around the fact Oaks Christian is a private school while every school in the Marmonte League is public.  Deepening the disagreement is the fact that Oaks hands out scholarship money to an estimated 25% of athletes.

“We’ve got no plan or desire to change things right now,” Agoura (Calif.) High athletic director Jason Rosenthal said. “We can’t deal with (Oaks Christian). They recruit; they get to hand out money for scholarships.

“First, they take the best kids from our area, and now they want to play against us with them.”

Marmonte officials suggest that Oaks look into joining some of the private leagues 1-2 hours away in Orange County.  Oaks officials think this idea is preposterous.  What do you think?

About the author
Aaron Sorenson


  • When I was in high school our leagues went through realignment to include private schools with public. At first I was against the idea, until I realized how much fun it was to beat much larger better funded programs.

  • I believe that conferences should be separated based on the private or public nature of the schools, but should ultimately meet when competing for the state championship.

  • I think these situations really depend on the area and school districts you are speaking about and should be evaluated on a case by base basis.

  • I think they should be allowed the option to play in the Marmonte league – my former high school, Menlo School in Atherton, CA, is a private school, however all our teams, including football, compete in a league with public schools. I never heard of anyone at the public schools in our league crying foul because we were able to offer scholarships to students (scholarships are offered based on demonstrated financial need or for academics). It shouldn’t matter whether they are a private or public school, if they can compete on the same level as the other schools in the Marmonte league, then they should be allowed to play.

  • Personally, I would be open to letting them switch, but I also believe a conference has the right to decide who can join their conference. Instead of crying about how unfair it is, Oaks needs to just keep taking care of business on the football field and worry about the things they can control.

  • I think each conference has a right to include or exclude who they want. It’s there conference and they need to do whats in the best interest of the current teams and players. I honestly don’t believe it is fair for a private school that can recruit athletes, give scholarships and basically steal players away from teams to play in the same conference. They should play against other private schools and be under a completely different organization. While it is stated that the scholarships of private schools are purely based off of academic or need based standings, the fact of the matter is private schools search out athletes to make their programs better and will get an athlete in if they want them. Point: Conferences have the right to say “Yes” or “No”.

  • Coming from a private league myself, i think inseason/conference play should be seperated by private vs public, but when it comes to playoffs, i like the way IHSA (Illinois High Scholl) does it. They incorpaorate the Public league (within the city of Chicago and out) in the State playoffs to find the best (or 8 best) teams in the state, but then they also have a city league championship seperated by a public league champ and catholic league champ.

  • I played high school football in Georgia, and ended up playing Marist one of the best private schools in the country four times in two years. Twice to kickoff the high school football season and twice in the semifinals. They recruit but it did not matter, it just felt great to have been their only losses in two years. I think they should be able to compete with public schools but not in their surrounding areas. Because if they are playing schools not in their area it doesn’t matter if they recruit or not the other team will not be affected. If they are able to push the envelope of other schools, why not? Competition is great for everyone!!!

  • Herein lies the problem with too many parents. They focus only on the outcome of the game (the win or the loss) As a coach, it is infinately easier for me to spot a top recruit playing against great competition than it is competing against a lessor team. High school sports is about the spirit of competition, not winning or losing.

  • I think that since some schools deem it necessary to give scholorships for athletics, then they should have to pay some price. In TN we put a 1.8 additional weight on these schools to make them have to play larger schools. This is intended to try to even out the unfair advantage smaller schools had. seems to work. Most private schools stay in their league, and when they venture out it is obvious that they are not dominate.

  • The fact that private schools can and do recruit certainly has the potential to create an uneven playing field. While public schools are limited to the pool of athletes available, private schools that recruit have the ability to build a team. Where is the fairness in that? I would argue that if private schools offer scholarships they must compete in a division set aside for schools that can do the same thing. The additional multiplier of 1.8 or some other number is an alternative to leveling the playing field.

  • Our high school just lost to a similar school in the Ohio High School playoffs 37-0. (St. Ignatius Vs. Strongsville) It was a ridiculous match up as you can tell by the final score.. Our team should have been state playoff contenders but matched up against this private school that recruits and offers scholarships it is much like playing a professional organization. I am not saying I have the answer but given this “recruiting school” is in the playoffs every single year, something just does not seem fair about it for all the other schools who just try to do their best with the teams they are assigned to. I like the idea of matching these elite programs with others that recruit likes the person mentioned they do in Illinois. Maybe that is an answer.

  • Doesn’t California have an athletic governing body that write rules for private school athletes? Nevada’s NIAA regulations say that an athlete may not accept third party (non-family member) tuition assistance and still be eligible to play sports? What do you think private schools do? They BUY athletes and win championships. They absolutely should not be able to compete with public schools that have to attend a zoned school. If they could attend any school they want, then fine. How is this fair?

  • Colorado has a new school modelled after Oaks Christian. I have to say that football is number one, They say that they give financial help to the needy, yet those who get help drive up in new Audi’s and Mercedes. The scolarship kids have ruined the culture of a school! Bad boyz!!!

  • We have the same situation among public and private schools in Tennessee in the following cities: Memphis (MUS, Christian Brothers and others), Nashville (MBA, Father Ryan, Pope John Paul II, Brentwood Academy and others), Chattanooga (The Baylor School & McCallie School), Knoxville (Webb School) and Jackson (Jackson University School). There are a significant number of folk who agree with Diane. I used to, but based on my experiences as a business man working in the U.S. I have come to the realize that one of THE MOST valuable concepts that we can teach our high school students (and high school sports is the most readily available and largest laboratory for doing this) is that life, the business world and the markets are often not fair. Therefore, we need to work on developing the resolve, the ingenuity, the mind that can hypothecate and implement viable strategies that will lead to successful outcomes, for this is the the way adults who work at companies that operate outside our school systems do it. For there is virtually nothing fair about the world of commerce. Participants just have to figure out a way to legally get it done! A recent example of this is Paul Johnson, for head football coach at Navy and current head football coach at Georgia Tech. Paul developed an option oriented running offense that uses no tight end, a running QB and three runningbacks at Valdosta State. It’s an offense that can be successful without future NFL talent. Virtually no one else uses this type of offense in big time college football for a number of reasons I won’t get into here. The point is that since Paul couldn’t recruit SEC talent to Navy, he had to use an offensive scheme with which he could succeed given the talent he found himself with and coach them up. He’s doing the same thing this, his first, season at Georgia Tech. Every business man in America and beyond can relate to this because there is no governing body to oversee the distribution of good management, IT, engineering and other talent. You just have to figure out a way to get it done. By whining a complaining in front of our children about how it’s not fair that some private or large public school has certain advantages is doing our children a great diservice and we, as parents and educators, are not taking advantage of an excellent opportunity to teach and prepare our children for the realities of adult life.

  • Obviously, there are plenty of “bad seed” programs with unscrupulous coach’s that recruit and induce players to attend their schools (private & public). That said, the myopic mantra of the public schools constantly whining about their fears of competing with private schools with dramatic lower enrollments is really tired. If they want to complain about “the haves” vs. “the have-nots” a more alarming fact is the amount of money raised for schools (PUBLIC SCHOOLS) in more affluent areas period. Each year in Texas for example, the Athletic Booster Clubs for Southlake Carol, Katy High School, and The Woodlands EACH raise $200,000+. This money directly goes toward purchasing equipment, clinics, etc. for their programs. Coincidently, these three schools have a significantly larger share of Championships compared to other public schools that may only raise $5,000-$10,000 annually. Maybe, the more affluent schools shouldn’t be allowed to play in the same leagues with the less affluent schools because “it’s not fair.”

  • In Texas we keep them separate all governed by UIL. A private school can petition to UIL to be included in public school divisions however they must forfeit all recruiting and scholarship activites.

  • This is a problem in many parts of the country, and many metro areas. Private schools can draw from the entire region, often giving a scholarship to get the talent that they are seeking. And, if I was a parent of such a child, I’d want my kid to attend the best school he/she can.
    The rub arises when this private school team competes agains the public school, which gets its players from within its geographic boundaries. Not able to recruit, and usually with limited funds, the public school becomes the team that can’t compete…….in many cases.
    Having kids in public school and scrambling for funds to give the kids a chance to improve and have a good experience, it is no fun going up against these private hand-picked teams; it’s especially galling when they have 1-2 kids from the public school’s area that were recruited to play, against the very kids they went to elementary and middle school with.

    My suggestion: Set a Private school conference, let them duke it out together. In a state like CA, there have to be several schools that could participate. If a public program wants to play at that level, they could petition in.

    The important thing is to give the kids the best chance to play and have a memorable high school sports experience.

  • Here in San Diego,CA we have the same types of private schools in our regular divisions. Cathedral Catholic being the biggest cheaters of them all. Our governing bodies “try” to put them in evenly balanced leagues, but it’s still unfair for 2 reasons. 1; They can recruit anywhere they want to. (we can’t recruit at all) and 2; They give out scholarships to any athletes they want to. ( basically buying our talent from under us). I think if CIF can get involved and regulate these activities, it will limit how much they can get away with. Perhaps they should only play each other and stay out of our leagues completely. As far as the team in this article goes, I don’t think it’s their fault that your governing bodies won’t align them with better talent. Somebody just isn’t doing their job…

  • This is a tough one. I attend a public school, but absolutely recruited by near by private schools and turned them down. It was tempting because no matter what anyone says……..those schools have more to offer their players. Our public school can barely afford 1 head coach and an assistant coach and I’ve seen as many as 15 coaches on the side lines of the private schools we have played. I must admit, nothing feels better than our scrappy team with 26 players kick’n a catholic schools butt, or even giving them a run for their money. Our coaches philosphie is “always play up”! He schedules us with the hardest teams he can find in the preseason to make us better players. We understand that we can compete, we might not always win, but we grow as individuals for at least trying. Anyone who says the private schools don’t have an advantage………….their kids aren’t attending a public school. I’ve scene some of our BEST PLAYERS being swooned over to the other side, having championship years and then being recruited by colleges just because of the high school they attended………………with all of that being said……..I wouldn’t have changed my high school experience at all…………

  • I agree with Dan H. Public schools will not allow a student to transfer into a distict just to play sports. (meaning no scholorship or recruiting) So private schools are allowed to play by their own recuting rules (scholorships) should play in the teh same rule based schools.

  • Any athlete with character knows there is no glory in defeating an opponent on an unlevel playing field.

  • The ability to recruit, and Oaks Christian does recruit heavily both through the school and through the parent organizations, gives the school a tremendous advantage. For example, Marc Tyler, now on scholarship at USC, attended Oaks Christian even though his residence was over 70 miles away from school. If Oaks moves to the Marmonte league you can bet that within a year, top athletes at other schools in that league will be recruited to Oaks. The ability of schools like Oaks Christian to pull in blue chip athletes, regardless of location, and the ability to use scholarships to raid area schools to create superstar teams, will let them cherry pick until they dominate the Marmonte League, and then we will hear that they need to move to another “more competitive” league. Leaving the schools in the Marmonte league behind. If Oaks Christian wants to be in a more competitve conference then they should seek to join a conference filled with schools that play by the same rules that they do.

  • The anti-competition posters have self-rationalized this into an urban legend that “public can’t compete with private because or private recruiting and scholarships.” It’s silly. Consider the obvious:

    A) Recruiting – Why wouldn’t a kid want to go to a school with a successful program? Couple this with the fact that no one wants to pays $15K+ per year for tuition. The conclusion is if you want kids to attend your public school, then improve the academics and build a good athletic program. If a public school can’t build a successful program with the 3,000+ kids they already have, then shame on the school and their coaches. Why would you subject your kids to that?
    B) Scholarships – This post topic began by talking about “the son’s of Joe Montana, Will Smith, and Wayne Gretzky.” Does anyone really think they put their kids in Oaks Christian because they were offered scholarships? It’s a ridiculous notion. They have the means to put their kids wherever they want. I’m certainly envious but good for them.

    Some posters genuinely may not know that the various public AND private high school leagues already have very strict and specific rules prohibiting “inducements.” Forget the anecdotes and urban myths, if anyone has any actual examples of recruiting and / or inducement violations, then do everyone a favor and report it to the respective league. Leagues are required to investigate and the penalties are severe / appropriate (ex. forfeit of all past games where an effected player participated, revocation of past championships award, etc.). This said, I bet little or nothing gets reported, because 99.999% of this is urban legend.

  • In response to your question and to the Menlo School comment let me say that it is completely unfair to have public schools compete against private schools. My children have been student athletes in both public and private schools. I have seen both sides of the issue and can say from personal observations that the private schools recruit athletes and then give them scholarships in order to attend. Private schools skim the top of the student athlete pool so that they rarely have the eligibility problems that the public school coaches have when grades come out and a key athelete gets benched because he/she didn’t make grades. My kids have played in both WCAL and PAL in Northern California. WCAL draws and recruits the BEST student athletes and PAL must make do with those athletes that reside within the boundries of a particular high school. An example of this would be an athlete from Salinas,CA who suddenly ended up playing for a WCAL team in San Francisco. The coach with a twinkle in his eye claimed no knowledge of how that happened. This is not urban legend. The practice is so completely common here in the San Francisco Bay area and inspite of loud complaints from school district administrators down to coaches money talks and the private schools not only have the money, but they have the parents with pols in their pockets.
    Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton,CA, one of those private schools that competes against the public schools and goes undefeated costs $28K/year and awarded $4M in scholarships in 2008/9. Do your math. That’s a lot of inducement. This week the Northern CA Central Coast Section Small School Football playoffs consists of eight schools. Five of those schools are private. Ratio of public to private schools in the Section is better than 4 to 1, but the playoffs show 5 to 4 in favor of the private schools. This outcome clearly supports what we all know is true. There is NO fairness that allows apples to compete against oranges.

  • I miss typed the CCS playoff ratio. It is 5 to 3 in favor of the private schools. This outcome is not by accident, it is by design. I think it’s great that some kids like the young man from Salinas who went to Riordan get a great education, better that they could have gotten at their public school. Just don’t mix the two in league play.

  • I’m glad PJ responded so well. That is an excellent example of what sounds like a fact based and credible perpetuation of this non-issue. The validity test is simple though…just ask how can someone a) know so much detail, b) feel strong enough to post it, but c) never submit a complaint with the leagues mentioned. The answer is because it’s invalid / contrived. Plenty of well intentioned people speculate about limited facts that don’t seem to add up, but that doesn’t make their speculations correct. It usually reflects missing information.

    The term “scholarships” is repeated misused making it sound like these private high schools are D1 / D2 colleges. Scholarships are available at any reputable and established private schools based on academic merit and / or financial need. If there’s a question regarding whether a school improperly awarded a scholarship for an athlete, this is very easy for the respective league to verify. It’s one of the first places a league looks when they receive a complaint.

  • Ron,
    I thought I was quite clear, but I’ll walk you through it so you don’t miss my position. My own children benefited from this unfair situation. I’m not about to harm the chances of my own kids to get what they want so that I can campaign for the greater good. The same has been true of every other parent that I know who finds the system unfair. They know if they speak up their kids will be punished for the transgression of the parents.
    The only missing information here is that there is an 800 lb gorilla in the room that everyone ignores because to point it out to the league officials would spell the end of the athletic career of the informant’s children at that private school.
    If you have ever had kids in a private school you know the truth of which I speak. If you have never had kids in a private school you are just speculating.

  • When you go up against a private school they have an advantage everytime. They take your best players and beat you with them

  • I find it statistically unlikely that Cathedral Catholic in San Diego garners the number of championships it does without some sort of intervention (notwithstanding the divine intervention to which Cathedral, by definition, is clearly entitled.) Ultimately it all comes down to money. Its not fair; but really, what is? By the time they get to high school most kids are well aware of the disparity between the haves & the have nots. They take it in stride and do the best they can. Good for them.