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Private schools still have edge in sports

November 13, 2011
By CRAIG REMSBURG , The Mining Journal

It was one of the best days in Upper Peninsula high school football history.

On Nov. 23, 1979, Escanaba (Class A), Ishpeming (Class C) and Norway (Class D) all played for state championships.

Ishpeming beat Watervliet, 13-0, and Norway dumped Schoolcraft, 21-6. Escanaba, however, despite a 10-1 record going into the game, lost to Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 32-7.

I was at the Pontiac Silverdome to cover the Ishpeming game, but watched the Escanaba contest and attended that post-game press conference.

I remember then-Detroit CC head coach Thomas Mach reveling in his team's decisive triumph until I spoke up to ask a question.

"Coach, do you think it's fair for you to recruit players and public school teams like Escanaba can't?" At least, I think that was the gist of my question. After all, it was nearly 32 years ago.

You could have heard a pin drop in the interview room after I spoke out.

I could see Mach was greatly perturbed at my question and getting hotter under the collar as the seconds ticked away.

How dare I ask such a question?

"I'll say this," Mach finally replied. "If anyone here can prove I recruited players for my team, I'll give you $1,000."

End of discussion. Possibly the end of the press conference. Case closed.

I've never regretted asking the question, only that my media brethren didn't press Mach further about the subject or add anything to the discussion.

All this comes to mind due to a recent Associated Press story. It reported a central New York prep football team was unable to play in a championship game because an investigation found an unnamed coach at Skaneateles Central School improperly recruited players from other schools.

A state appeals judge refused to lift a suspension for recruiting violations levied by Section III's Athletic Council.

It was a stiff penalty, to be sure. You have to feel for the Skaneateles players who posted a 9-0 record and made it through the state semifinals. An adult or two let them down.

But recruiting is not right. Detroit CC's Mach never recruited, of course. But you can't tell me his assistants or coaches at younger levels didn't recruit - or, at the very least, steer - top players to the Shamrocks' program.

Escanaba was left to field a team of players living inside the school district's boundary. There was no "school of choice" opportunity then like there is now where a parent can enroll a child in a nearby school outside of the district they live within.

Private schools have an unfair advantage when it comes to high school sports in Michigan, particularly if these schools are located in - or near - metropolitan areas like Detroit CC.

They can "draw" so many more quality athletes for their athletic programs if parents are willing to pay the fare.

Is it a coincidence that three of the five private schools that qualified for the 2010 state football championships won?

In 2009, the numbers were the same.

In boys basketball, of the eight teams that played for basketball titles in 2010, three were private schools. Two of them won.

In 2009, private schools claimed three of the four titles up for grabs. The same happened in 2008.

And don't get me started with girls basketball. In Class B, only one public school - Detroit Renaissance (2005) - has captured a state crown since 1992, when Frankenmuth accomplished the feat.

All the other titles were won by private schools.

It doesn't seem to be an equal playing field.

I've long held that private schools should compete for state sports titles at a level one step higher than their student count.

That would give public schools limited to athletes living within school district boundaries together with the occasional school-of-choice student a better chance to compete.

It'll never happen, though. There would be too many private school lobbyists making sure the Michigan High School Athletic Association doesn't change its current policy.

These lobbyists know a good thing when they have one.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is



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