Notre Dame-West Haven High School will be starting its own post-graduate program, called Notre Dame Prep, that will begin in the fall.
The program will offer its own academic curriculum, separate from what the high school students take, and its own basketball program, again separate from the current high school team coached by Jason Shea. The team will be coached by Nick DeFeo, who currently coaches the Woodstock Academy Blue Team, one of two prep school teams at Woodstock.
The above were stipulations handed down by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference that it remain a separate entity from the high school team and school.
Shea said this program was created to provide another option for area players to stay at their high school, then come to Notre Dame as a post-grad rather than going to a prep school and reclassifying (repeating) as a junior or a different academic year. A handful of schools in the Fairchester League use reclassification because the league does not allow post-grads.
“It gives parents a chance to hang up on those prep schools who call up and talk about reclassification,” Shea said. “You are being asked to take a leap of faith as a sophomore when you really have no idea whether you will end up at the level they project for you. Instead, if you continue at your high school and get to the point of the real recruitment, you get feedback from college coaches and then if you need to do a fifth year, you are making an educated decision.”
Shea didn’t make reference to specific examples, but Hearst Connecticut Media has reported 12 players from the Southern Connecticut Conference have transferred over the past two off-seasons and reclassified before their senior seasons of high school — with just one from Notre Dame-West Haven, Tim Dawson, now in his second season at Hamden Hall Country Day.
“What is going on here locally is kids are reclassifying, so we have a lot of talent in the area that leave (CIAC schools),” Shea said. “We don’t lose guys. but it happens a lot in our area. There is enough talent in the area to field a fifth-year team if those kids chose to stay in high school.”
Shea alerted the SCC athletic directors of the new program ahead of time and has the blessing of the league commissioner, Al Carbone.
“All too often, we talk about problems with high school sports in this state, but we never create solutions,” Carbone said. “Great job by Notre Dame getting this done. It is always great to be first at something and Jason Shea and the ND administration really thought this through and took advantage.”
Shea said the admissions process will begin immediately. Fifteen student-athletes will be able to enroll beginning in mid-August and begin classes — and practice — when the high school students return. The cost will be the same as the high school tuition — approximately $16,000. Core courses and electives will be offered in addition to SAT prep.
There will be no boarding at Notre Dame Prep.
Notre Dame is expected to join the Power 5 Conference. According to a release on Notre Dame’s athletic website, gogreenknights.com, both Woodstock teams, along with MacDuffie, Masters (CT) Commonwealth Academy (Mass.), Redemption Christian Academy (Mass.), Hoosac (N.Y.), Bradford Christian (Mass.) and Capital Prep Harbor are in the Power 5 Conference.
DeFeo, 26, responded to a phone message seeking comment by text saying he would not do any interviews until his Woodstock Blue team concludes its season. According to gogreenknights.com, DeFeo, who works in the admissions office at Woodstock Academy, will become an assistant director of admissions at Notre Dame.
Shea said he has already started to get inquiries about the program. The basketball schedule will be approximately 30 games and Notre Dame Prep will likely be classified in either AA or AAA, according to Shea.
As a point of reference, schools in the Fairchester Athletic Association that allow reclassification Hamden Hall and St. Luke’s in New Canaan are Class B schools for basketball in the NEPSAC (New England Preparatory School Athletic Council) while Greens Farms Academy in Westport is in Class C.
“I don’t oppose all kids reclassifying,” Shea said. “If you are an extremely high-level player and it makes sense to go to a school that is better for them academically, great. What I am opposed to is the rampant reclassification.
“Usually, at the time of the reclassification, kids are not being recruited, but being promised the opportunities. The prep school coach has no idea if he can make those promises come true. In a lot of cases, the local prep schools play in front of 20 people every night. You can’t tell me that a better developmental situation or environment for those athletes.”