Earlier this year, I wrote a commentary about the apparent thaw between public and private schools facing each other on the football field, as the nine public schools in the county had nine contests against privates, a full 10% of the regular season, on the schedule.
That is a huge number, considering over the prior 10 years WillCo schools had only played private schools 27 times, posting a 5-22 record.
For more than 40 years, back to when even I was playing, the issue of public-private games has been controversial at best, volatile and ugly at worst. There was a time when I was cursed for covering a private school game, and the thought of a public-private matchup was as taboo as a Democrat in Williamson County.
For historical perspective, the angst between the two groups was charged by a lightning rod in our own county. After winning its first state title in 1974, just four years after starting the program, Brentwood Academy went on a tear, making the state finals 21 times 32 years and winning 10 times in seven different classifications. The secret to that success, it was claimed, was recruiting public school students for athletic reasons, with the inference falling on all private schools.
The issue finally came to a head in 1997 when the TSSAA sanctioned the Eagles, but that led to what is still considered a landmark case (Brentwood Academy v. TSSAA, 2001) that eventually made two appearances at the United States Supreme Court. By 2016, Division I and Division II separated public and private competition.
Another example of just how intense the self-enforced divide was: the county’s two oldest programs, BGA and Franklin, both more than 80 years old at the time, did not meet until 2009. In events that electrified the local community, the two split a home-and-home contract in 2009 and 2010.
They haven’t played since.
So, I was excited when I saw the schedule, hopefully expecting that those nine games might be split evenly and open up some new rivalries. But that didn’t happen. WillCo went 3-6.
Ravenwood had the heaviest schedule against private institutions, finishing 3-1, including last week’s impressive 56-28 win over Pope John Paul II. But the other five games all went against the hometown teams, by an average of 24 points per game. Not the kind of results we’ve come to expect. It also adds fuel to the flames being fanned by those who think Division I and Division II should be separate, period.
I am a public school’s guy; a product of them. But I still believe there is room for private schools, both in academics and athletics, and that those two should meet on the fields and courts of competition. I am hopeful that things will even out next year, the end of the standard home-and-home contracts, and help to remove what is otherwise a move for a deeper chasm between the two.