The Big Money Sports World Of... High School?

The New York Yankees, the Miami Heat and... the Valor Christian Eagles? Big money sports teams have long dominated professional sports, and they've become the norm in college, too. As Coloradoans are finding out, now high school teams are being divided into the haves and have nots, and the have nots are crying foul.

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A Curious Surge

There are always some high school sports programs with better resources than their peers. Yet a few private high schools in Colorado, including Valor Christian and Regis Jesuit, have exploited their advantages to new levels in recent years. The public school teams they play in sports like football and basketball rely largely on the luck of which students happen to live in their district to field their teams. Recently, a few private schools have begun going after athletes in what's been called an arms race with their public counterparts.

While professional sports teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and others are often criticized for fielding what are essentially all-star teams, high school athletics are traditionally more even-keeled. That's no longer the case in Colorado. In the 1980s, only four percent of all high school championships were won by private schools in Colorado. In the last ten years, private schools have won nearly 23%, despite only accounting for 12% of the schools.

In certain sports, the numbers are even more dramatic. In boys' swimming and lacrosse, as well as girls' soccer, private schools won approximately half of the championships in the past decade. Boys' and girls' golf and boys' basketball aren't far behind. In field hockey, private schools won nearly 73% of championships.

Winning At Any Cost

The biggest complaint leveled against the private schools is that they're finding success by bending rules or, in some cases, flagrantly violating them. That private schools having larger budgets and, therefore, better facilities, more assistant coaches and other affiliated perks is nothing new. But now the private schools are accused of actively recruiting middle school students, which violates Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) rules.

While some recruiting in defiance of the regulations is common, two coaches at Valor Christian have come under more serious scrutiny. CHSAA put their head football and track coaches on probation for trying to recruit top performers at the school's Nike Invitational track meet in 2010. Furthermore, when Valor hired Keith Wahl to start a baseball program, he contacted players from his previous school, which led to him being banned from coaching during the 2009 postseason.

The Consequences of Ruthless Athletics

Just like the cheating kid on the playground that no one will play with, Colorado's private schools are finding that the public schools would rather forfeit than play an unfair game. When they can, other schools simply refuse to schedule games against Valor. In fact, they were forced to leave the CHSAA in all sports except football, lacrosse and hockey.

This is a problem that's new to Colorado, but it has found a solution in other states. In Virginia, Mississippi and Texas, private schools play in their own leagues. While that may be the long-term answer in Colorado, at the moment there aren't enough schools. Just three schools, Valor Christian, Regis Jesuit and Mullen, are in total control of the athletics scene. For the time being, it seems likely that the rich will continue to get richer, while the public schools will get left behind.

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