For the third year in a row, the Upper Arlington girl’s water polo team won first at the state championships Oct. 21-22, while the men’s team placed fifth the weekend of Oct. 28.
Compared to the women’s 25 total state titles, the men’s water polo and swimming banners hanging above the pool seem barren, with only ten state championships won. As same-gender Catholic schools who have the ability to recruit from all around Ohio are much more prevalent in the men’s bracket, many question the fairness of their presence.
At the state championship in Mason, Ohio, the men’s team lost 6-11 to private Catholic school St. Xavier, and received the highest place possible of fifth after losing the first bracket.
Some consider this to be unfair, as St. X’s pairing with Upper Arlington was based on how each team had been doing throughout the season. However, while St. X’s junior varsity team played in Ohio, their varsity team was practicing in California, a state where water polo is extremely competitive.
Since they were out of state, their games did not count towards their bracket seating. This meant that UA was playing a completely different team than they were seated in the very first bracket. St. X went on to win the state tournament against another Catholic school, St. Charles.
Some argue that this is unfair to public schools who don’t have access to those sorts of opportunities.
“There can be an argument made that private schools, due to higher wealth, have better opportunities. The ability for St. X to fly to California mid-season to play is something no public school can do,” UA water polo coach JJ Spangler said.
An Uneven Playing Field
The juxtaposition of Catholic and public schools in the same league may also in part be due to the fact that public schools are required to accept students from within a certain geographic boundary, while private schools can draw from outside that boundary, leading to potentially stronger athletes.
Even if specific athletic recruitment isn’t allowed, private schools also have the ability to enroll out-of-district students for academic purposes.
To avoid potential loopholes, new rules are making it tougher for students to transfer to private Catholic schools and immediately play on different teams.
For instance, in 2002, a rule created by the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference forced students to sit out for a calendar year from sports when transferring from any school in the D.C. area.
Rather than recruitment being the heart of the problem, Spangler believes that it’s the selection of students that private schools have access to rather than the ability to recruit, “Recruitment isn’t the issue. It’s just the larger amount of students [Private schools] have to choose from. Where a public school of 4,000 students is typically more girls than guys, a private school of 4,000 would be all of one gender, allowing a greater pool of athletes,” Spangler said.
The Financial Gap
Another existing preconception about private school athletics is that most students who attend these institutions are wealthy, and this excess tuition money goes towards things like nicer facilities, more highly trained coaches, and better equipment.
Senior goalie of the water polo team Alex Rabe believes in this edge, and while there are issues regarding the two schools coexisting in sports leagues, there should ultimately just be more equality as opposed to completely separate competitions.
“I don’t think Catholic schools in public brackets is unfair, but you do feel there needs to be some regulations regarding [private school] teams…They do require tuition money, so they have a much higher budget to provide better equipment for their teams,” Rabe said.
This potential advantage is visible in the the rankings for top high school sports teams in the nation, in which Catholic schools make up a good majority of the list.
However, Chris Jung, director of operations for LouisvilleCatholicsports.com, disagrees with this argument.
“The Catholic schools on those Top 10 and 25 lists have a lot of tradition. It comes down to their culture. It’s one of success. It irks me that people think that because some Catholic schools have these nice facilities, fields and athletic equipment, that it means when they walk on the field, people hand them a championship. That’s impossible,” he said.
Jung believes instead that tradition, dedicated coaches, and stable environment- not an uneven playing field- lead to the success of Catholic high school teams.