Monday, March 23, 2009

Detroit Country Day's National Prominance Due To State Dominance

I was interviewed for a story about 10 prep teams that would have defeated an NCAA tournament team. The writer, Stephen Spiewak from Jersey City, interviewed me, Tom Markowski and a handful of other national writers a while back for the story that was recently published at I told Spiewak the 1990 Detroit Southwestern team, with Voshon Leonard, Howard Eisley and Jalen Rose, would have been a beast of an 'out'. In fact, I think those Prospectors could have won a play-in game.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning that the Prospectors would have been super-human had Chris Webber, long-rumored to follow best friend Jalen Rose to Detroit Southwestern, not been enrolled at Country Day. So, in a great story about Detroit Southwestern, there's a picture of Chris Webber and a cutline of what might have been if Webber had not been a Yellowjacket but rather, part of a quartet of Division-I players at one school, coached by the all-time winningest coach in Horizon League history, Perry Watson.

My bad.

Detroit Country Day won the 2009 Class B girls' state championship Saturday. That's the 10th title triumph for head coach Frank Orlando, himself an all-state basketball player nearly 50 years ago at Detroit's now-closed St. Thomas High. Orlando has also won a state title in baseball. But is Orlando mentioned in the same circles of Kathy McGee, Lofton Greene, Diane Laffey or Bernie Holowicki?

No. Why? Because he's from Country Day. In the minds of many, it doesn't count the same. He isn't guiding the hand he's dealt, they say. He recruits, they complain. He hand picks his talent, they say, sniding. He has an unlimited budget, he should win every year, they mumble under their breath. Yet they never complain about the private school that finishes in fifth-place. It's only the champion they are quick to discredit.

They never said these things about River Rouge. All River Rouge did was win 12 Class B titles in 19 seasons as a public school with the best prep basketball coach the state has ever seen.

The Detroit Free Press ran a nice story about the 'Jackets today, but the mention of Orlando's feat was minimal. I'm OK with that because the focus was placed upon Country Day's student-athletes. There's a coach who knows about Orlando's snub. In fact, he plays his home games in the same gym that Orlando calls home. Kurt Keener has been the boys' coach at Country Day since the Tigers started 35-5. Nobody had boo to say about the Yellowjackets until a 14-year-old phenom walked through the doors with his mother. Suddenly Chris Webber changed the perception of Country Day from a rich-kid playground into every other school's worst enemy. 10 girls' titles and seven boys' titles later, Country Day is the opposite of the family business in The Godfather. You get ex-communicated if you do side with Country Day.

There's a great article in today's Detroit News about Country Day senior Faziah Steen. Upon graduation, she's going to play at Dartmouth next year. A girl who tore her right and left ACL in three years, who watched her teammates celebrate last year and was so embittered about missing it that she willed herself to come back her senior year for this opportunity. She's going to Dartmouth -- how outstanding is that?

Country Day has a number of self-imposed obstacles. It's about $25,000 a year to attend the school. How many families do you know of that have 25K sitting around for high school per year, per kid? You have to be able to pass the entrance exam and you're required to play at least one sport and participate in extracurricular activity if you don't play a second sport. If you can't afford the tuition, you have to apply for need-based aid, a decision that Country Day has no influence in. That shrinks the pool of perspective students drastically. Country Day doesn't get $80-90 million dollars to cover the operating budget, which is approximately the amount Novi's public schools require to keep the doors open, the lights on and the floors swept, among other things.

Oakland County is lucky to have a wealth of private schools and Country Day has an outstanding legacy of student-athlete achievement. What's wrong with having a very successful school among your state's quiver of arrows? Their string of titles in boys' and girls' basketball isn't any less impressive than River Rouge's incredible 19-year run just because they're a well-to-do private school. Their athletes work just as hard, put in just as much effort and dream of the same dreams any other team from any other school does.

Why should they be punished when their dream comes true?

T.C. Cameron delivered Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries to Arcadia Publishing a mere 7,000 words over limit...oops. The title, after edit, will be available in August, 2009.

(Photo courtesy The Oakland Press/Bryan Mitchell)

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