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In the past few years, the term competitive balance has become as much a part of the high-school sports lexicon as safety blitz, crossover dribble and sacrifice bunt. Its mere mention can stir up a heated debate.
The issue will come to a head over the next two weeks as 825 principals vote on an Ohio High School Athletic Association proposal that, among other things, would attempt to level the playing field between public and private schools.
Currently, a school's enrollment is the only criterion used to determine tournament classification for teams. The latest sport-specific plan devised by a committee headed by OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross would institute a formula taking into account the composition of each team's roster.
Different criteria, based on one's residential status, determine whether a player is assigned a Level 0, 1 or 2 rating. That number is used to produce an adjusted enrollment figure.
Although Ross said the filters will be consistent among public and nonpublic schools, large districts that promote open enrollment -- such as Columbus City Schools -- and parochial schools that draw from wider areas disagree.
"The latest plan allows nonpublic schools to designate one chosen feeder (parish) in which those kids count zero, but the kids right across the street from our school and families who have been committed to the Catholic schools in this city since the very beginning, will be assessed a Level 1, and it will count against our enrollment numbers," said DeSales principal Dan Garrick, who will vote no on the proposal.
Principal Mike Winters of Hartley, another Columbus Catholic school, said that although the plan is more palatable than one voted down 327-308 a year ago, he also would vote no.
While lauding the work of the committee, athletic director Dominic Facciolla of Columbus Academy, a private school, said the plan still has flaws.
"We obviously have a wide range of zip codes at our school, and I understand that we would get a considerable spike in our numbers," he said. "I appreciate the issues and the complexities involved, but I'd like to see some consideration given in cases when kids at private schools have attended that school for a very long time."
Vincent Clarno, director of student activities for Columbus City Schools, emphasized that his district embraces students selecting schools to best suit their academic needs and career goals. So assessing a Level 1 rating to athletes attending schools outside their designated neighborhood zone seems misplaced to him.
"Quite frankly, I like the system we have now. I don't think it needs to be fixed," Clarno said.
Supporters of the proposal point to statistics that show private schools composing roughly 20 percent of schools in Ohio, but winning a proportionately greater number of state championships.
Some administrators, weary of hearing about competitive balance and the possibility of separate tournaments year after year, might be tempted to vote for the proposal. Those from the largest schools -- which won't be affected by the formula -- could swing the vote.
"The bottom line is, we need the public and private schools to stay under one umbrella and play in the same tournaments, and if this is the way to make that happen, we are in support of it," said Shawn Buescher, West Jefferson's football coach and athletic director.
At Logan Elm, also a public school, football coach and athletic director Scott Bartholomew said he often wonders where his opponents' players hail from.
"That has been a big concern of mine for a long time," he said. "Whether private or public, you'd like to think those kids have come through your feeder program. There's no perfect scenario, but the mathematics this time around seem a lot less punitive."
The somewhat complex nature of the components making up the formula is daunting to some.
"There are a lot of numbers to digest and crunch, and we may not even know 10 years from now if it will be reflected in state championships won by public and private schools," said Kevin Weakley, boys basketball coach and athletic director at Worthington Christian.
Schools must submit their votes to the OHSAA by May 15. If passed, the plan would be instituted in the fall of 2016 after a one-year pilot program.
By the numbers
Criteria for students in the competitive balance formula proposed by the OHSAA (the levels factor into a formula that determines a final enrollment number for each school; level 0 adds no enrollment penalty and level 2 adds the highest):
Level 0: Students whose parents reside within the school district; or nonpublic school students who have attended a designated feeder school since seventh grade.
Level 1: Students whose parents live outside the district but who have been enrolled in the district since seventh grade; students in multischool districts attending schools outside their designated attendance zone; and nonpublic school students enrolled in the same district since seventh grade.
Level 2: Public and nonpublic school students whose parents live outside the district and/or have not been enrolled in the district since seventh grade.