Sunday, June 15, 2008

Finally, Something To Talk About

The Michigan High School Athletic Association's scholastic season of 2007-08 ended this past Saturday as four baseball champions were crowned at the same complex the MHSAA hosted their softball championship.

Birmingham Brother Rice became the second-straight Oakland County champion in Division I when the Warriors pounded out a 8-0 win over Saline's Hornets. In Division II, Dearborn Divine Child took home the championship by mercying the Oilers of Mt. Pleasant High, 14-3. In Division IV, Lutheran Westland came within a run of making it three championship metro teams in four divisions when they dropped a 2-1 decision to Bay City All-Saints High. Only Division III had a public school champion as Grass Lake mercied Allendale 14-4.

Notice a trend here? Three championships in four divisions won by private schools. Of course, this hot-button topic is not a new thread but rather a never-ending debate about the advantages private schools and public schools have over one another. Private schools recruit! Public schools are state-supported machines! This is unfair! We need weighted or separate championships!

Blah, blah, blah.

Private schools do recruit -- I've watched it first hand, and I'm tired of the dirty lil' secret being glossed over by the wink 'n' nod crowd who say, with stone-faced resolution, that recruiting doesn't take place. It does. And before we go further, what exactly is 'School of Choice' and 'Open Enrollment? I seem to remember this crafty program keeping two public high schools open in Royal Oak for almost 10 years. Nothing was accomplished by simply putting a your shingle out there and saying, "We're open for business!" It takes some sweat equity to make something like a private high school become a viable option versus the local, public school. Now that the state money well is dry, the public schools will be catching up quickly in the recruitment game that never goes on (wink, wink).

What's comical is how fans like to pick 'n choose their battles in this debate. Brother Rice recruits and it's an outrage, but the small christian and lutheran schools, like Lutheran Westland, are almost never mentioned in these debates. Today, those other Warriors are the feel-good story locally, like Southfield Christian was a few years ago, or Rochester Lutheran Northwest was a handful of years ago, because they don't win year after year.

Translation? Those schools aren't annual contenders for the biggest prize like Brother Rice is, so there's no threat about Westland Lutheran's Warriors. Here's more evidence: Do you notice how no one was upset the U-D Jesuit lost to Berkley 1-0 at Berkley's regional, or that Royal Oak's Ravens defeated Warren De LaSalle? Not one Catholic League fan complained about the advantages those two schools have over their private school. And when Macomb Dakota defeated Royal Oak, where was the furor there? Oh, it was two big, state-funded public schools, so I guess all is right with the world in that regional.

When Bob Riker's team defeated Jenison High on Friday in the Division I semifinals, Brother Rice became the first Oakland County school to reach five finals in either Class A or Division I, eclipsing Frank Clouser's Royal Oak Kimball teams that went to four finals in 10 years from 1971-1980. What's ironic is when Kimball went to those four finals, it was because Kimball was that good, right? It wasn't about Kimball having 3,600 students and the state's tax-stipend per student to fund those efforts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kimball remains the only school to go to three consecutive Class A or Division I championship games, so where was the uproar over that state-sanctioned machine our tax dollars created?

Maybe it was because Frank Clouser was a good coach. So is Bob Riker, as is Tony DeMare at Divine Child.

When Rice reaches the finals in the present day with 1,408 students, or Divine Child with 891 students, it's because Rice and Divine Child recruit, or because they had an easy road, or all the other reasons except why they really got there. It's really because they have a very good coach. Their players are talented. They dominate their opponents the old-fashioned way, by not making defensive mistakes, by manufacturing runs with precise execution and by out-pitching their competition.

Brother Rice didn't have an easy road to the finals; they made beating some tough competition look easy. They mercied Birmingham Groves 10-0 in a five-inning, no-hit mercy, the same Falcons who came within a game of winning their OAA division. Jim Crosby has won about 600 games at Groves, where's the uproar about that? Rice then made Plymouth Canton and White Lake Lakeland (remember when the Eagles were known as Milford Lakeland?) look helpless by 12-1 and 13-1 counts to earn the regional crown. What's omitted in this discussion is that Canton beat Novi, who had previously topped No. 1 ranked Northville, so either the rankings mean nothing or sour grapes mean everything when the big, bad private school wins. It's either that or Ferris Bueller's cousin's girlfriend who's brother sits in chemistry class really did get him sick at Baskin Robbins while sampling one of the famous 31 flavors.

Bueller.... Bueller?

Brother Rice and Divine Child are the bullies in the local Detroit prep baseball scene but when football season is upon us, DC takes a back seat while Rice remains a schoolyard bully. Who do they all answer to? Farmington Hills Harrison. I've lived in Farmington Hills for 18 months now and I've watched countless cars come through the neighborhood, stop and ask me or a fellow neighbor, "If we buy this house, do our kids go to Harrison High School?" That isn't Harrison recruiting -- that's parents finding a way into the district to make sure their kid is at Harrison. And today, finding a house on the cheap is easy in every Michigan community.

In Farmington and Farmington Hills, Harrison is known as the sports school when compared to North Farmington and Farmington High. What's funny is Harrison isn't dominant in any other girls' or boys' sport - not even close - the way they are in football. And the huge, public school argument? It doesn't exist, because coach John Herrington's Hawks, who have reached 16 finals and earned 12 titles, have played the big, bad public schools with enrollments between 900-1000, picking between 400-500 boys, while thumping schools with enrollments between 2000-3000 students.

All of these other tired, ancillary arguments conveniently omit the obvious fact many fans don't want to admit: A good coach with good athletes has a better chance of winning the title than a school without a good coach and good athletes. That might explain why they usually do win the state title.

There's a concept, huh?

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, now available online at Border's Books and Barnes & Noble and available in stores August 25th, 2008.

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