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Good Question: Do Private Schools Have An Advantage In H.S. Sports?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On a night that a private school shut-out a public school 12-0 in the state Class A boys hockey tournament, it’s no surprise an old debate in Minnesota high school sports would resurface.

Do private schools have an unfair advantage in Minnesota high school sports? Specifically in hockey?

“I would just like to be more on fair playing ground,” said Mark Nelson, a former coach in Marshall, Minn.

“It’s completely unfair,” said Toby Helgeson, a player in Alexandria, a public school.

Of course, advocates for the private schools argue that there’s some sour grapes at play, and public schools have plenty of advantages.

“Whether it’s Edina or Eden Prairie, Blaine, some of the larger schools, it’s about their associations, it’s about their coaching,” said Dave Zimmel, a supporter of St. Thomas Academy, the private school that won 12-0 to advance in the playoffs.

WCCO-TV analyzed the last 10 years of boys state hockey championships. In the smaller Class A state tournament, 70 percent of the champs were private schools, even though they make up just 10 percent of the total teams in Class A (Duluth Marshall, Totino-Grace, Legacy Christian, Providence Academy, Mounds Park/St. Paul Academy, Achiever Academy, St. Thomas Academy, Breck, Blake, St. Cloud Cathedral).

In the bigger school Class AA, private school teams won four of the last 10 state titles when they make up just eight percent of AA teams. (Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Holy Family Catholic, Cretin Derham Hall, Minnehaha Academy, Academy of Holy Angels, Hill-Murray).

“We have been debating this for as long as I remember,” said WCCO-TV sports reporter and anchor Mike Max.

He added: “I think it’s a pretty level playing field right now. Public schools have as many advantages as private schools do.”

Certainly in the metro area, and in Class AA ,that’s true. Public schools can attract the best athletes because of open enrollment policies that let any student transfer into any school.

But that’s not generally an option for the Class A smaller schools in the middle of the state.

Recruiting players is against Minnesota high school hockey rules, for public and private schools. But the private schools offer need-based scholarships, which can be quite attractive to quality athletes looking for quality athletic programs.

“They can go find the good players, bring them into their program,” Nelson said.

“Good schools attract good players. Once you get a reputation, you’re gonna get a player who calls and wants to play,” Max said. “You’d be amazed at how many moved in, transferred in, across the board, public school and private. It’s amazing how many are from a different district.”

So many solutions are being tossed around. Some think that all private schools should play in class AA.

The reality is that almost every private school with a hockey team in class A has a good hockey team.

Others want to see a special private school league – and many states do that.

When it comes to other sports, private schools have a variety of success. The football powerhouses are typically public schools. Overall, basketball is a public school strength as well.

But in the smaller enrollment Class A schools, private schools often dominate. Private schools dominate Class A in boys soccer, winning seven of the last 10 state tournaments. The last public school to win a Class A tennis title was in 1995.

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