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State Sen. Scott Martin wants to reform high school sports in Pennsylvania.

He wants to do it through the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, without legislation or lawsuits, and especially without the terms "public'' and "private'' schools.

Martin, a Republican whose 13th District includes most of Lancaster County and some of Chester County, is advocating a plan to address controversial issues of competitive balance that acknowledges an obvious truth: There are what amount to elite magnet schools for sports, just as there are for math, science and the arts.

So maybe those schools should play each other for state championships.

Martin's idea begins with every school in the state declaring itself boundary or non-boundary.

"I'm talking about creating a system where you have to set a boundary and draw from a set area,'' Martin said in an interview May 17. "If you don't, and that's your model, then you're non-boundary. So you could have some of the schools that just have become phenomenal, especially in the sports of football and basketball, in their own class.''

Specific geographic boundaries would be drawn for every boundary school, public or private, and the school could not draw athletes from outside the boundaries.

The non-boundary group might be something like Division I in college sports. Boundaries could play against non-boundaries in the regular season, but would have separate postseason playoffs to determine state championships.

Details are to be determined. Many questions remain unresolved. for example:

- Who would draw up the boundaries?

- How could District 12, which is the School District of Philadelphia, be fairly divided into boundaries? And if Philadelphia isn't divided into boundaries, would Philly superpowers like Imhotep Charter have any reason to become non-boundary when their boundary, presumably, would be all of Philadelphia?

- Would declaring non-boundary status be solely voluntary? If so, what if no schools, or only a small handful, volunteer?

Selling the idea

"I only go by what I've heard,'' Martin said. "I've heard that schools like Bishop McDevitt wouldn't mind that. In reality, if that's what your business model is, why not?"

Martin played football and wrestled at Lancaster Catholic and Millersville University. He was elected to the State Senate in 2016, and joined the General Assembly's PIAA Oversight Committee last summer.

Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson, a Bucks County Republican and Vice-Chairman of the PIAA Oversight Committee, has been a Martin ally in selling the idea around the state.

Together they've met with the PIAA and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. Many football coaches around the state - notably Jim Cantafio, the well-connected former head man at Conestoga Valley, Cedar Cliff and Wilson - are in Martin's camp.

The plan is a long way from fruition. It hasn't been formally proposed to the PIAA Board of Directors, which would have to craft the proposal and shepherd it through three readings and a vote before adoption.

Cries getting louder

Competitive balance issues -charges of rampant recruiting and athletically-motivated transfers - have existed as long as high school sports.

The charges have gotten louder and more persistent of late, especially since the School District of Philadelphia joined the PIAA in 2004.

Parochial schools joined the PIAA with the enactment of a state law in 1972. The PIAA leadership continues to believe the 1972 law constricts their efforts to address competitive balance.

PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi met with Martin and Tomlinson last week. He called the meeting, "very informative and worthwhile.''

But he continued to express his long-held belief: "If we try to separate the schools in any way, the schools will take legal action, and we're not gonna win.''

"I believe what we're proposing is allowable by the current law,'' Martin said. "It's not violating the law. This isn't about me trying to create legislation. It's just saying, 'Can we try this for a couple years?'"

The Oversight Committee has been relatively inactive in recent years, but it is required to hold at least one hearing per year and issue an annual report.

Last year's hearing, in June, included a discussion of competitive balance issues. Martin joined the committee that day.

This year's meeting has not been scheduled.

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June 3, 2018


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