Public vs. private schools takes center courtPublished 11:14pm Monday, March 5, 2012
RALEIGH — On Saturday the Southside girls’ basketball team and the Plymouth boys’ hoops squad will enter the Dean E. Smith Center in search of a state championship, but it’s who they will be playing against that took center stage on Monday morning during the NCHSAA state championship press conference held at the Radisson RTP.
Both Southside and Plymouth face enormous challenges this weekend as they will take on non-traditional public schools in their season finale. The No. 5 Seahawks (29-3, Four Rivers) will clash with six-time defending state champs No. 7 Bishop McGuiness (26-5, Northwest), a Catholic school based in Kernersville, while the No. 3 Vikings (23-4) will battle No. 1 Winston-Salem Prep (30-1, Northwest), a magnet school located in Winston-Salem.
While Southside could make school history by winning its first-ever state championship, a win for McGuinness would make state history.
Led by 10th year coach Brian Robinson, the Villains enter Saturday’s contest having won six straight NCHSAA 1-A state championships and a seventh would give them the longest streak in North Carolina history, boys or girls.
Brimming beneath the surface of the Villains’ meteoric rise is a kindling flame of backlash from public schools that feel like McGuinness, along with other Catholic and non-public schools, have an unfair competitive advantage because there are not necessarily bound by the same restrictions.
There are several criticisms levied against non-public schools, some fair, some not, and on Monday Robinson was given a format to address/dispel some of those issues.
“I think the biggest thing is just misinformation. I think a lot of times people are misinformed and they want to try to explain our success and they will say, ‘Oh, it’s obvious, they’re not a traditional public school so they must be doing something.’ But once people find out what we are actually doing they’re like, ‘Oh, okay. We get it now, that’s how it works,’” Robinson said. “We can’t offer scholarships. If people transfer to our school they have to sit out for an entire year. Thirty-nine of our 44 girls that have come through our program over the years have come through our Catholic feeder schools.
“We have (six) feeder schools that feed into Bishop McGuinness, so almost 90 percent of our girls have come through those schools.”
It’s those feeder schools that most public schools take issue with. For example, Southside has two feeder schools that cover what a school official estimated to be 40 miles, while Bishop McGuinness has six feeder schools that range from as far west as Burlington and as far east as Greensboro which gives them a larger area to draw players from, a fact Robinson did not deny.
“(The area) is definitely bigger, there’s no question about that. But, I don’t think that parents will pay their hard-earned money in this type of economy for just sports,” Robinson said. “I think if I was someone that was doing things the wrong way I don’t think people would think twice about coming to Bishop McGuinness. That’s why I try to do things on the up-and-up and try to be the best person first, then be the best coach after that.”
Southside coach Bill Lake acknowledged that the competitive balance tipped a little in the Villains’ favor but said that his concern this week is only about what goes on between the lines.
“As far as their situation of where they can get their players from versus how we can get the players that are given to us, I can’t do anything about that now,” Lake said. “This is what it is. They got their team and I got mine and nobody is going to change that before Saturday. You go with what you got. They just have a bigger area to draw from.”
While the McGuinness’ talent pool is deeper it should be clear that the school is not breaking any NCHSAA rules.
As for Winston-Salem Prep, Phoenix coach Andre Gould was quick to shoot down the notion that because his school as the word “Prep” at the end of it that it is not a public school.
“We are a public high school, let’s get that straight,” Gould said. “We are definitely a public high school.”
When asked what the territory of his school was Gould answered Winston-Salem, which is true. However, upon placing a call to Winston-Salem Prep a representative of the school confirmed that anybody not from the Winston-Salem area could attend the school as long as that person paid tuition.
Gould was clear that he did not want the issue to deflect from the fact that his school, which has played by all the NCHSAA rules, has rightfully earned their spot in Saturday’s title game
“At the end of the day I’m not going to take anything that somebody thinks is negative about our school and let it take away from the accomplishment of our kids,” Gould said.
The fact that the McGuinness has established itself as such an outstanding girls’ basketball program leads to another gray area. While the school is not recruiting athletes, it has now become an inviting place for parents of a daughter who aspires to excel at basketball to bring their child. Should that scenario take place, it’s unreasonable to think that McGuinness, or any other school in a similar situation, should turn those kids away.
“My job is to coach my basketball team and to coach them to the best of my ability, and like every other coach we want to win,” Robinson said. “So if we win and that draws people to turn their heads in our direction then so be it. I won’t apologize for trying to run the best program that I can run.”
And make no mistake about it, Robinson has run a great program, which tends to get lost in the shuffle by those constantly trying to poke holes at why the school has had so much success. Though the Villains have other good sports programs, none have done anything near what Robinson’s teams are doing.
Robinson is also quick to point out that the competitive balance has not been as uneven as people think.
“We have not won our conference in the past three years. We’ve only won one conference tournament in the past three years and this year we are seeded seventh going into the state tournament,” Robinson said. “We have by no means been dominating, but we just get into the playoffs and start playing basketball at the right time. I could see if we were 31-0 or 30-2 every year and were beating everybody by 50 points, I would even question that myself.”
Though there are still several questions to be raised, there is only one any of the coaches care about this week: which team is the best? And the answer to that will be made clear on Saturday.