This is part 2 of my article from the other day with the same title. I realized I had more hot button issues to discuss. In this article I discuss whether NH's private schools should be banned from the NHIAA, and also whether all-state voting should be done at the end of the regular season or at the end of the tournament.
Catholic School Controversy
Ok, so for the past couple of weeks, or ever since Bishop Guertin and Trinity advanced to the D-I boys title game, there have been people out there saying that NH's Catholic High schools should have their own league and that they should no longer be eligible to win NHIAA state championships. The argument is that these schools can draw kids from all over the state, and even other nearby states to come to their school, as opposed to public schools who can only have athletes from their local town(s).
Yes, it's true that the Trinity boys have made the Final Four 3 years in a row and that BG has made the finals in 2 of the past 3 years. It's also true that 3 of Trinity's top 6 players this year were incoming transfers, 2 of them transferred in right before the school year started and without those 3 players the Pioneers probably wouldn't have made it to the finals.
Still, even with that being said I am definitely in favor of allowing Trinity, BG and the rest of the private schools to stay in the NHIAA and be eligible for state titles here's why.
It's not like BG and Trinity win it every year or anything. Prior to 2011, BG hadn't won a title since 1983. And this year's ship' for Trinity was only their second title since 1985. BG got bounced in the first round of the tournament last year, and Trinity got bounced in the first round in 2010. These aren't dynasties we're talking about here people.
What is a dynasty is Conant boys basketball. This year the Orioles won their 8th D-III (Class M) title in the last 10 years. In Division IV the Lisbon boys just won their 5th state championship in the last 10 years. They are both going to be the preseason favorites in their respective divisions next year, too. Conant and Lisbon are the 2 closest things to a dynasty in NHIAA boys basketball, NOT Trinity or BG. Yet do you hear anyone out there saying that Conant or Lisbon should be put into a different league, that they shouldn't be allowed to play for an NHIAA championship, or that they have some sort of unfair advantage? Nope. They just have really good programs at those schools. And if some of the other programs around the state were better, then maybe there would be less kids leaving those schools for Trinity and BG.
Before Jim Migneault got to BG, the Cardinals were not a very consistent winner. And Trinity’s Dave Keefe is certainly one of the better coaches in D-I. The Lebanon boys haven’t had a losing season since the mid-90’s. Pembroke, Portsmouth and Newmarket are all perennial contenders in boys hoops. What is the common factor here, people? Coaching. Alosa, Mulvey, Matte and Hayes. These guys are all highly regarded in the NH basketball coaching community. This is proof of why the strength of a program depends much more on coaching than whether or not it’s a private school.
On to the next point - BG and Trinity are doing well right now, but what about the other private schools? After all, if private schools have such an unfair advantage (like some people have been saying) why has St. Thomas been struggling so much in recent years? The Saints have never been in a Division II boys basketball final. Bishop Brady last won a title in 2001 and has struggled in recent years. But they have turned things around last couple of years thanks to the coaching of Mark Yeaton. Again, it’s about the coaching, not the recruiting. In Division IV Portsmouth Christian Academy has never won a title, and Derryfield hasn’t won a ship’ since 1983. Besides, the whole issue here is all of these kids transferring from public to private schools for basketball, but nobody is transferring to a D-IV school for hoops.
Next point – complain all you want about all of these basketball players transferring to BG and Trinity, but the fact is just as many of them are transferring out. Travis Descoteaux, Dawson Dickson, Ian Sistare. All 3 of them would have been on Trinity this past season, but they all transferred out of Trinity in the past couple of years. Dylan Lafond, Logan Kesty and Cormac Fitzpatrick – there’s 3 more players who transferred out of Trinity in recent years. On the girls side you have Taylor Marston who transferred from Bishop Brady to Bow, and you have Tighe Loche who transferred from St. Thomas to Portsmouth. So if the whole argument here is all of the kids transferring into private schools, I just gave plenty of examples of kids who are also transferring out of them.
Next point – look at the big picture here, people. All of this fuss is all about BG and Trinity boys basketball. That’s only 1 sport and 1 gender. This is a non-issue on the girls side. Yes, the BG girls have been dominant for the past couple years, but prior to 2011 they hadn’t won a title in 30 years. Meanwhile the Trinity girls didn’t even make the playoffs this year and they have only won 1 championship ever. The St. Thomas girls are no basketball power, neither is Derryfield and Bishop Brady struggled in D-II for years and it wasn’t until this year when they moved down to D-III that they made it back to the Final Four.
And how about looking at other sports too? I know that many people out there only follow basketball, but if you are going to make a ‘Private School League’ it would have to be for all sports. And while BG, St. Thomas and Trinity football teams have been very strong recently, that is in part due to the fact that they should have been playing these last few years in a higher division. BG should have been playing in D-I when they won 5 straight D-II titles, Trinity should have been in D-II or D-III for the past few years and St. Thomas should have been in D-III or D-IV instead of waiting till 2012 to finally move up.
Let’s think about the state’s most dominant athletic programs. The programs who are considered dynasties, the ones who year after year are contending for titles and winning championships - Conant boys basketball, Plymouth football, Portsmouth baseball, Lebanon girls basketball, Hanover boys soccer, Timberlane wrestling. Are any of those schools I just named private schools? I didn’t think so. The fact is that the vast majority of NHIAA state titles are won by public schools, NOT private ones.
And let’s just think for a second about how that would play out if there was a ‘Private School League’. Ok, so you have BG, Trinity, St. Thomas, Bishop Brady, Derryfield and Portsmouth Christian Academy all in their own league. Ok, so that’s only 6 teams. What are they going to play against each other 3 or 4 times and call that a season? Yikes! Not to mention Most of the games would be blowouts, especially when BG or Trinity played against Derryfield or PCA. This simply would not work.
You have to let these 6 schools play in the NHIAA, no question about it. But in order to keep the playing field level, there are 2 things that the NHIAA can be doing better. First off, making sure these 6 schools are in the proper division. Of course, you cannot simply put them in the division where their enrollment puts them. You have to account for the fact that they can get kids from all over the place and not just the town(s) that are local to their school. The other thing the NHIAA can do better to keep the playing field more level is to keep a closer eye on these transfers. Especially in the Manchester area, it seems like these kids are switching schools more frequently than they change their socks.
If you ask me though, I honestly don’t have a problem with all of the transfers. I say let the kid go to the school of their choice, even if basketball is the reasoning behind their decision. You only have 4 years of high school, enjoy it. If you are thinking about going to 2 different schools, you believe that both present the same academic opportunities but one of them offers a better opportunity for you basketball-wise then sure, go ahead, go to that school. I don’t see a problem with it. If you’re willing to pay the $8,000 a year to go to a private school because you think you’ll have a better chance at playing college ball then I see no problem with it. If everything else between the 2 schools is equal, if the classes and the extra curriculars are the same at both but the basketball is better at one school then why not go there instead? Whichever school the kid and their family believes will give them the most positive high school experience is the one they should go to. And if basketball is a factor for the kid and their family then so be it.
Also under the ‘I've said it before but I'll say it again’ category…
Ok, I’m going to wrap this article up. I didn’t think I was going to write as much on the private school issue. Plus I have already touched on this issue in past articles. Just like how in my last column I briefly mentioned the shot clock and how NH needs it. I mentioned it but it’s a point I have made time and time again in the past so I didn’t talk about it a ton.
Same thing here, with regards to the all-state voting. I have said it multiple times before but I feel very strongly about this issue so I will briefly mention it again. The all-state, Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Mr./Ms. NH Basketball awards NEED to be voted on AFTER the state championship games are all over. Overall I would say that year in and year out the NHBCO does a pretty good job with their votes. At the end of the season I will look at their votes and for the most part they fall right in line with how I would have voted. However there many times when there are discrepancies and this is typically when a player’s tournament play is considered.
Mainly I’m talking about Player of the Year voting. Now typically at the end of the regular season you will have 4 or 5 candidates for POY, with very little separating them. Now, if only there was a state tournament where a state champion was crowned, where the stage is bigger and the games have more meaning. We could then use these games to help decide which one of those 4 or 5 kids to give the POY to. But wait, there is a state tournament, which would be perfect for that. So why do the coaches vote before the tournament? After all, the tournament is the most important part of the season. What’s next, are we going to just get rid of the state tournament altogether? We mine as well, because the message that the NHBCO is sending by doing all of their voting at the conclusion of the regular season is that the state tournament doesn’t matter, that it is irrelevant. So why not just get rid of the tournament altogether? We are already giving the POY to the best regular season player, mine as well give the state championship to the team that is in first place at the end of the regular season too!
Yes, I know that they do name an ‘All-Tournament Team’, and it is based solely on tournament performance. But c’mon now, nobody remembers those award winners. Those aren’t the teams that get all of the press. The NHBCO’s All-State, POY and COY awards are. A lot of people take the NHBCO’s picks very seriously, especially the players, parents and fans. That is why it’s a shame that tournament performance is not a factor.
Look, I’m not saying that a kid can’t make all-state if his team didn’t make the playoffs (that wouldn’t be fair to a kid like Kaleb Marquis from Concord this year or a few years ago you had Goffstown’s Alex Stoyle). And I’m also not saying that you have to win a state title to win POY (the Bedford girls won the D-I title this year but clearly the POY in that division is Green, Sherburne or Simpson).
So I’m not saying that tournament performance is the be-all-end-all. But it MUST at least be a factor. For example let’s say you’re a voter and you have Jeff Lunn and Eric Gendron neck and neck on your ballot for the last spot for first team all-state in D-I boys. Now maybe at the end of the regular season you voted for Gendron because game in and game out he was a slightly more consistent player. But then in the tournament Gendron’s Merrimack squad got bounced in the first round, while Lunn put the Cardinals on his back, took them to the finals where they nearly upset Trinity. So the 2 of them were dead even during the regular season, but when you factor in tournament performance there is no question that Lunn deserves that spot over Gendron. I could give many more examples like this but it’s time to wrap the column up. Bottom line, tournament performance MUST be a factor. If it is, these awards will carry more weight, and they will mean more to the individuals who receive them.
Last point on the all-state stuff – yes, I know that all sports do their voting prior to the tournament, it’s not just basketball. But just because all of the sports vote this way doesn’t make it right. Someone has to be the one who stands up, goes against the grain with their opinion, and thinks rationally and outside the box so that others may follow. That person is me. Yes I know, change is scary. But sometimes change is for the better. This is one of those times.