UNCASVILLE >> Capital Prep, a Hartford magnet school, cruised to its second girls basketball state title Saturday morning at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Not too long after that, East Catholic, a parochial school, followed suit on its way to a Class M state championship.
Meanwhile, an hour’s drive down 95-South, Fairfield Prep, another parochial school, was in the process of winnings its third Division I hockey championship in the last four years at Ingalls Rink.
In all, magnet and parochial schools won five of the 11 state titles on the line in basketball and hockey this past weekend.
That leads us back to the never-ending argument: should these schools be in a league of their own?
“They’re obviously never going to have a Catholic-magnet school division, so they have to be Class LL because they could get whoever they want,” said Weaver girls basketball coach Wendell Williams, whose team lost to Capital Prep in the Class L final. “Look at Capital Prep, and you can print this, if you have one kid living in Meriden, one kid from East Hartford, one kid from Manchester, one kid from Bloomfield, you should be Class LL.”
However, public schools have had an overwhelming edge in winning championships in the last 25 years.
Since 1990, public schools have won 64 boys basketball state titles. Parochial and magnet schools have won 36. In girls basketball, there have been 63 public school championships and 37 for parochial and magnet schools. And in boys hockey, there have been 37 championships for public schools and 22 for parochial schools.’
There are 185 schools involved in CIAC-sanctioned athletics. CIAC executive director Paul Hoey says about 35 percent of those schools are charter, magnet or parochial schools. But that number continues to grow.
Differentiating the public schools from the others is getting more and more difficult. School districts are increasingly offering Project Choice programs. Nonnewaug’s vocational agriculture program allows it to draw from out of district. The same goes for Ledyard.
“I feel like every school seems to be a school of choice these days,” said East Catholic boys basketball coach Luke Reilly, who guided the Eagles to their Class M title on Saturday. “It seems to me that all of these schools seem to have choices with different programs that are available. There are a lot of magnet schools. There are a lot of Catholic schools. I can certainly see why it’s a hot topic. The climate is changing. Every school seems to be a school of choice.”
The CIAC implemented the “success in tournament” rule this year, but only for basketball and soccer. Under the new rule, schools of choice — which include all schools that draw from outside of their district boundaries — which reach the state quarterfinals two out of three years move up one division.
Schools reaching the quarterfinals three straight years move up two divisions. With the new guidelines, 12 boys basketball teams, 10 girls basketball teams, one boys soccer team and six girls soccer teams moved up.
“There’s no question in my mind that it’s a fairer rule than it was before, rather than just doubling enrollment,” Hoey said. “Look at the girls’ tournament. Capital Prep would’ve been playing in the Class S tournament right now. It’s more equitable and created the ability of these true Class S schools to compete for a championship.”
Capital Prep coasted to a Class S championship in 2013, winning four games by an average of 54.5 points per game, before moving up two divisions to win Class L.
“There’s certainly an advantage for parochial, charters and magnets to draw kids from outside and there really should be a premium on that,” Hoey said.
Some argue that schools like Nonnewaug and Ledyard — “schools of choice” because of their vocational agriculture program — are suffering. The same goes for Weaver, which is a Class S school by enrollment but is now a “school of choice” because Culinary Arts Academy draws from out of district. The Weaver girls basketball team moved up to Class L because of the “school of choice” and “success in tournament” rules.
The Weaver boys moved up to Class M due to being a “school of choice.” The girls lost to Capital Prep (magnet) and the boys lost to East Catholic (parochial) in their respective finals last weekend.
On the flip side, Bridgeport Central, a public school, came from behind to knock off Fairfield Prep in the Class LL boys basketball final. Thomaston, a traditional Class S school, beat St. Paul, a parochial school, in the Class S girls final.
“That’s the hot topic and people are talking about it,” Lauralton Hall girls basketball coach Amanda Forcucci said. “I don’t know. I can see it both ways. But that’s why teams move up. We’ll play in the tougher division, and that’s fair.”
The Crusaders beat South Windsor, a public school, 68-53 on Saturday in the Class LL final for the first state championship in school history.
“It’s nice if the teams on the floor are on a level playing field,” South Windsor coach Don Leclerc said. “But if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Over the last 10 years in boys basketball, there have been 30 public school champions in comparison to 10 parochial or magnet champs. Of the 40 girls basketball state championships, 23 have been won by public schools. In hockey, 19 of the 30 state championship banners hang in public school gyms.
East Haven hockey coach Lou Pane suggests creating a separate state tournament for parochial schools, and then three different divisions for the public schools. Currently, there are three divisions in hockey.
“There’s no doubt it’s been a long time coming that they need to be separated,” said Pane, whose team had five losses this season, all to parochial schools. “Look at the numbers in Division I. They have an unfair advantage. They can get kids from any other town. I think there should be a division for private schools come state tournament time.”
Pane pointed out that 19 of the last 25 Division I champions have been parochial schools. Of those, 12 have been Fairfield Prep.
Jesuits coach Matt Sather says there simply aren’t enough parochial schools for a tournament of their own. There are 11 that play hockey.
“When you look back, many more times than not, public schools are in the state championship games,” Sather said. “That tells me the system is working. You can make the argument that public schools have the advantage because they have youth hockey programs and rinks on campus. It works both ways.”
Mississippi, Texas and Virginia separate the private schools from the public. Making all the private schools play in the highest division or class is an option. Doubling their enrollment and the new “success in tournament” rule are others. Having one giant tournament for all schools in the state may sound far-fetched, but the possibilities are endless.
And so is the argument.