Hearing to focus on rising tensions in public vs. private school sports debate
Northeastern was given a tour of Mt. Wolf and Manchester on the back of a fire truck after winning its fifth straight PIAA boys' volleyball crown. Jeff Lautenberger, for GameTimePA
Increasing complaints over a potential growing chasm between public and private high school sports teams has gotten the attention of state legislators.
That's why the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee is holding a public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room B-31 of the Capitol building.
The hearing will focus on student transfers, athletic classification and the possibility of holding separate championships for public and private schools, according to committee chairman Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks).
Most of the complaints are from public school officials in relation to basketball and football competition, DiGirolamo said. The complaints stem from alleged advantages of private schools, particularly in forming all-star caliber teams by pulling athletes from large geographical territory — even outside the state, DiGirolamo said.
READ MORE: PIAA transfer policy needs to be fixed (column)
The recent charter school explosion, particularly around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has seen powerhouse football and basketball programs continue to strengthen, even drawing premium athletes from New Jersey and Delaware.
In football, private schools won four of six PIAA titles last year and 13 of 18 titles going back to 2013.
"I think there's something that needs to be looked at. I think it's overdue," said Don Seidenstricker, South Western's longtime football coach and athletic director who is retiring this month.
The state oversight committee still monitors the PIAA, though legislation would be required to break private schools into their own championship format, said Sean Harris, executive director of the PAOC. Rather, Tuesday's meeting is being billed as an important information gathering step.
Those invited to speak include Robert Lombardi, the PIAA's executive director, and Sean McAleer, education director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. Also expected to speak is Mike Williams, the legendary former football coach of Manheim Central High.
The meeting, which must be adjourned by 11 a.m., will not include a public comment portion, DiGirolamo said.
The PIAA's board of directors recently created a committee to look into these same issues. Legislation in 1972 ordered private schools to become members of the PIAA.
"A lot of public schools want a separate championship (format)," DiGirolamo said. "I've never been a proponent of doing that. ... But maybe there are other ways of leveling the playing field."
Seidenstricker said he believes the continued popularity of club and AAU teams actually helps fuel private school powers. Offseason teammates on these teams, even from far-flung hometowns, often end up transferring to join together during the school year, he said.