Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Parochial, Private Schools Add To Oakland's Aura

Last week I umpired a Catholic League doubleheader between visiting Orchard Lake St. Mary's and Birmingham Brother Rice, played behind the Birmingham YMCA Center. Rice took a pair of victories from the Eaglets, who are rich with young talent but not yet blessed with the depth and experience that befitted Coach Bob Riker's Warriors last week. Orchard Lake St. Mary's will be ready when it counts, because they usually always are and are led by good coaches.

In researching my book, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th of this year, I interviewed hundreds involved on a daily basis within Oakland County's high school sports infrastructure. Naturally, a few good-hearted souls took up the cause to lament the Catholic League's advantage of plucking students from public school boundaries for the betterment of wins and losses in after-school athletics.

I listened and did my job as the dutiful reporter, but a couple of points stuck out to me. First, does anyone else notice that it's never the 0-9 football team that is complained about, just the playoff qualifier from a private school like Rice or Detroit Country Day? Naturally, this is a bit hypocritical, and no public school ever complains about their fate when their team's results are average or worse. Many public districts are openly courting students in today's open-district, open-enrollment, school-of-choice fight for survival. Michigan's economic woes have created a virtual free-for-all within competing districts and private institutions.

But the other point makes me proud to be from Oakland County. Just how lucky are we to be in this county to have so many outstanding public and private schools in one square swath of land called Oakland County? Think about it -- most counties would love to have just one private school the caliber of Novi's Catholic Central, Royal Oak's Shrine High, Madison Heights Bishop Foley or Waterford's Our Lady Of The Lakes, in addition to the aforementioned private schools above. Certainly space prevents me listing all of the worthy candidates on either side.

Then you have tony districts like Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills and Troy. Clarkston, Lake Orion and Oxford are all immaculately maintained with highest standards for achievement and opportunity. The same can be said in Walled Lake, Novi, Northville, Rochester, South Lyon and many other Oakland County public school districts. How many Oakland County schools have played for and won the MHSAA"s football tournament? Last season Farmington and Lake Orion staged perhaps one of the greatest baseball finals in the state's biggest division and it was just the latest example of an Oakland County school shining brightly on the state's big stage.

I could write an entire column on the academic achievements of Oakland County schools in our state and national scope. And yes, Wayne and Macomb counties would argue they have some strong entries into this debate as well.

We get caught up in winning and losing in our hyperactive, American culture -- it's in our blood, I suppose. And yes, I'm doing a bit of cheerleading, but maybe that's what we need in Michigan right now. There hasn't been a lot of good news in the past few years as it relates to the issues that matter most in our region. So it's nice to drive home from a hotly-contested game and realize that competition we stage and officiate produces the opportunity to excel against the best the county has to offer.

As a parent, that's what any parent wants for their children, to be able to offer then the opportunity to get to the highest level of competition and achievement. Oakland County certainly affords a parent or student those opportunities. This alone should make everyone worry less about balls & strikes and safes & outs.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing.

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