Before coach Robert McMahon and his Thomaston Golden Bears prepared to play Capital Prep in the 2013 Class S final, they practiced like they normally do. They talked about believing they could beat their opponent, which featured three Division I players, like they normally do.
Then they tried something different.
“(We watched) Miracle, Hoosiers and the 30 for 30 ESPN documentary called ‘Survive and Advance’ (about N.C. State winning the 1983 NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship) as much as possible during the week,” McMahon said, hoping his team could pull off the huge upset.
It didn’t work.
The Golden Bears got steamrolled 84-55 by Capital Prep. Capital Prep won Class S tournament games by an average of 55 points in 2013. In 2014, the Trailblazers were bumped up to Class L. Other teams moved too, but only schools of choice based on success and enrollment in the past three years.
In previous years, only enrollment determined class, but not anymore due to the new rule. Schools of choice that advanced to the quarterfinals had to move up one class, meanwhile schools of choice that advanced beyond the quarterfinals had to move up two classes.
“(The Success Rule) is certainly better,” said CIAC Tournament Director Dave Maloney. “We’re headed in the right direction.”
One year after the Success Rule was put in place, some coaches at both public schools and schools of choice don’t agree with Maloney.
“The frustration levels from the public schools are pretty high at this point,” Sheehan coach Mike Busillo said.
Even though the change was meant to level the playing field between schools of choice and small and large public schools, Busillo said it has not done much.
The Titans are in Class L, along with Capital Prep. Currently, Capital Prep has been the unanimous No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT.com/Register Top 10 for five weeks in a row. He said schools like Capital Prep have an advantage as a school of choice that a public school like Sheehan does not.
“Kids aren’t just going there and they happen to be great basketball players,” he said.
McMahon, who is also a member of the CIAC girls basketball tournament committee, said there is no easy answer.
“I’ve talked to 20 people with 20 different ideas,” he said. “I just don’t think they’re feasible.”
Like taking all the schools of choice and making them compete against one another.
He said it wouldn’t be worth it to lose some of the Catholic school versus public school rivalries. He said the current rule is not perfect.
He pointed out Nonnewaug, which got moved up to LL due to its success and enrollment. The Chiefs no longer have the players that helped them achieve their previous success. Because of the rule, Nonnewaug has to stay in LL until it can be reclassified.
“One of the girls that was part of the success factor that helped put us where we are is a junior in college right now,” said Nonnewaug coach Adam Brutting. “I’ve got freshmen and sophomores that don’t even know who the girl is.”
Maloney said Nonnewaug, which has a vocational agriculture program, can draw from outside of its geographical area. Once a school has at least or over 25 students from outside of the school’s geographical area, it can expect to get moved up if it wins.
“Whether they’re dancers or they play the trumpet or they’re basketball players, the fact that they can draw more than what’s typical in geographic boundaries, that’s the principal behind it,” Maloney said.
Nonnewaug played in LL for the first time last year. It won its first-round game over Kennedy 50-38, then lost to Career, a magnet school, 90-37. Brutting said it is unlikely that students are using the Vo-Ag program to play basketball. He said the Success Rule is counterproductive.
“It should be for perennial winners,” he said.
Which Maloney actually agrees with.
“We’ll look at that again,” he said.
McMahon said the current system has another quirk that could require some attention.
“It would be nice if teams were encouraged to play up when they should,” he said. “By that I mean made to play up. Sacred Heart boys (Class S) and Capital Prep girls, I mean, it’s silly that they don’t play up.”
It wasn’t Capital Prep coach Tammy Millsaps’ decision to stay in Class L this season. She said the principal made the decision to keep them there. She said she thinks the rule was partly a means to keep the Trailblazers’ success in check.
“If the rule only effects one party, how is it fair?” Millsaps said. “That’s why I think it’s discriminatory.”
She said if leveling the playing field was really a concern to the CIAC, they could have made this change, or similar changes, years ago.
“I can recall Principal (Dr. Steve Perry) telling me they got beat in one game 71-1,” she said. “Now you tell me who in their right mind, regardless if it’s a school of choice or a suburban town, that they think that was right? Regardless if someone complained or not, the CIAC should have stepped in then and said this is not right.”
She said the loss occurred nine years ago. The CIAC actually has made changes to balance things out before, like in the mid-2000s when it got rid of Classes and had teams dropped into divisions based on a points system.
Still, Millsaps said the main reason changes were made now is because small public schools are not winning, and instead of improving, they’d rather complain.
“I believe, essentially, they’re saying the urban schools of choice must be doing something that’s not right,” she said. “There’s an assumption that we must be recruiting. We’re out and about, going to games saying ‘Come to our school.’ That’s not happening.”
Busillo thinks otherwise.
“I’m not calling anybody out,” he said. “But I know I’ve had kids that have played for me that have been approached at some level by a catholic school or a magnet school.”
He acknowledged that not all schools of choice recruit, however.
“I’ve always said when I’ve gotten beat by a Sacred Heart Academy at the end of the game I didn’t feel like it was because I got out-recruited,” he said. “There are other teams, Catholic schools and magnet schools, and I just feel like they did a good job of recruiting players.”
McMahon also said he is a bit skeptical about the lottery system that Capital Prep uses to enroll students.
“Snoop (James) was there, (Kiah) Gillespie, (Desiree) Elmore. If that’s a true lottery they ought to play power ball,” he said. “It’s a lottery, but they happen to get world-class athletes in there? I’m always going to side with small public schools because we play the hand we’re dealt.”
Millsaps said the lottery is not rigged and to discourage children from wanting to attend a good school is wrong.
“How are you going to tell someone not to go into the lottery system and have that opportunity?” She said. “It makes no sense to me. We say we value certain things in society but then when they’re put into place, we try to deter people from taking those opportunities.”
Millsaps said the rule should be across the board. The rule is currently only in soccer and basketball.
“Why don’t they reclassify in sports like softball, baseball and volleyball?” She said. “They’re not, because those are the sports where the small schools are already successful in.”
In the last five years, no more than one school of choice has won a baseball state crown per season. In softball, only two have, St. Joseph in 2010 and Sacred Heart Academy in 2011. In volleyball, boys and girls, none have.
Busillo said all Catholic schools need to be taken out of Class S. Currently eight of the 55 Class S schools are Catholic schools. St. Paul, a Catholic school, went to last year’s Class S final. Notre Dame-Fairfield, another Catholic, is a heavy favorite to win Class S.
He said all tech schools should play in Class M and S.
McMahon said a selection committee might be the only way to remedy the situation. However, he said finding people that have the time to watch all the games is not realistic. He said the tournament committee most likely won’t change anything after just two years.
Millsaps said the schools need to come together and talk it out.
“Maybe we have an idea, maybe we don’t,” she said. “But we all know it’s not fair.”
With Capital Prep out of Class S, Thomaston still ended up playing another school of choice in the 2014 Class S final, aforementioned St. Paul. Thomaston won in double-overtime.
Meanwhile, Capital Prep had to go through larger schools in Class L before topping Weaver in the final. Millsaps said there is something wrong with this picture.
“That’s the part, it doesn’t matter your race, if you really look at it, how can it not be discriminatory?” She said. “At Capital Prep we have a high school with 115 girls and we’re playing schools with 600 girls. What kind of sense does that make?”
2015 CIAC Girls Basketball Tournament
- 10 Reasons Why You Should Care About the Tournament: Because it’s going to be epic.
- The 5 Most Important Players in the CIAC Tournament: Kiah Gillespie’s on the list, but you knew that already.
- Everything You Need To Know About the CIAC Tournament: So Larry Bird walks into a locker room…
- GameTimeCT.com/Register Top 10: A couple new teams join in!
- Success?: Coaches not too happy with CIAC Tournament Success Rule.
- Big Turnaround: Gilbert came a long way. Find out where it ended up.
- 2015 Conference Tournament Recap