Should Private Schools be Competing in the Same State Championships as Public Schools?


Abbey Kocian

The North Stars playing on Sept. 9 against Wheaton-Warrenville South.

Alex Bardouniotis, Sports Editor

Private schools such as Benet, Mother McAuley, St. Rita and St. Francis have been in St. Charles North’s state series as long as we can remember. However, these private schools have had negative consequences on public schools in our competition. 

All around us in the state of Illinois, especially during this past fall season, private schools have dominated our state championships. This can be seen in many athletic programs, but most recently with our volleyball and football teams. Just this past month, our own North football team competed in a playoff match against St. Rita, a private Catholic school. Although North fought hard, unfortunately, the Stars lost the battle against the Mustangs. 

While the North girls volleyball team did go undefeated in conference, they, too, lost in their playoffs. Looking further into the outcomes and results of all of the brackets, the winners of three of the four brackets turned out to be private schools: Freeport Aquin of 1A, St. Francis of 3A, and Benet of 4A. The volleyball brackets are set up according to school size, using the number of kids to determine which class you are in. For example, if you have 1,500 plus kids in a school, then you are in 4A (like St. Charles North), and if you have anything less than 1,500 you are in 3A, and so on. 

North Head Girls Volleyball Coach Lindsey Hawkins had much to say on the issue. 

“It’s unfair; I’m sick of it. I was watching the game and they talked about how Mother McAuley has 15 state championships and they are the winningest program in the state of Illinois. 15 is a lot, so clearly something is wrong because nobody should be going to state that much,” Hawkins argued.  

In addition, the football playoffs finished this past weekend, but many private schools such as Loyola Academy, Mt. Carmel, Nazareth Academy, Providence Catholic, Sacred Heart Griffin, IC Catholic Prep and St. Teresa were competing. North Head Football Coach Robert Pomazak expressed his concerns regarding the private school issue. 

“I think it’s something that warrants further investigation. There’s opportunities that maybe private schools have that we as public schools don’t, and I think that it’s something to look into. Would it make a difference? I don’t know, but something is definitely there,” explained Pomazak.

Private schools just being in our state championships isn’t the heart of the issue; it’s how it affects the public schools competing against them. For instance, private schools can recruit players, whereas we public schools cannot. As a part of the varsity girls volleyball team here at North, the recruitment issue hit home for me. My original position was an outside hitter; however, I had to switch to play the middle position to fill a role on the team. 

“[Public schools are] doing the best that you can with whatever you have and for instance, like us, you had to play the middle position. Those private school teams are picking and choosing from whatever position they want, and they have plenty of those positions, whereas we did not,” Hawkins explains. 

Due to the recruitment privilege of private schools, sometimes players, like me, had to switch positions in order to accommodate, because they take kids from the public schools, leaving us at a disadvantage. 

How does the placement of private schools in our brackets even happen? For volleyball and football, there are different processes, but both Hawkins and Pomazak were able to shed some light on how each process works. 

It turns out that instead of IHSA ranking the teams for volleyball, coaches themselves actually do it, leading to a lot of unfairness and turmoil both inside and outside of the brackets. Essentially, the coaches could rank teams higher or lower so that they wouldn’t have to play them. For example, in North’s girls volleyball playoffs, Rockford school coaches ranked Huntley lower than another Rockford school of a lesser caliber. This caused North to play Huntley for our first sectional game, while we should have played them for our championship. 

“You had all of these coaches trying to, basically, screw people over, so you have this ranking system that’s flawed. You can’t have coaches trying to screw each other over and rank other teams lower just because they don’t like them. It’s not cool,” said Hawkins. 

The bracket system is much different for football, but it leads to the same outcome. 

“For football, it’s a class system. 1A through 8A all divided by population. 32 teams make the playoffs, with a five game winning streak in order to compete. They use the wins as a point system and bracket that out,” explained Pomazak. 

In 2017, the North Stars also lost to St. Rita in the playoffs, and they lost to Benet in 2018. More private school victories. What would an ideal system look like? One that leveled the playing field and didn’t give huge advantages to one side or the other?

“I would much rather look into modifying some of the recruiting opportunities that private schools have, like shortening the radius of recruiting [or] certain amounts of scholarships, they can change something like that, that might even the playing field,” suggests Pomazak. 

Hawkins shared the same views but also proposed a new notion. 

“I think that [private schools] should have their own state tournament, because it’s a different beast. There have been years where playing against Marist has been like playing against a college team. How is that fair? It’s not doing anybody any sort of service,” says Hawkins.  

Private schools have been a force to be reckoned with for decades, and there have been debates over the issue for years, but is it just because of everything that they have access to? Do we need to separate state championships for public and private schools just to make it fair? 

As a player myself who has experienced playing private school teams such as Benet and St. Francis, I agree with both Hawkins and Pomazak in their opinions on the issue. Taking private schools out of our state championships for volleyball specifically would make the competition much more equal. Not only would it level the playing field, but getting rid of those easy wins for private schools would allow more public schools to stay in their regionals, sectionals and other postseason matches longer and help them get farther in the competition. 

In my opinion, it’s not fair that three out of the four classes for volleyball in the state championships were won by private schools. All of the public schools were knocked out of the competition early on due to the strength and numbers of the private schools, and it’s because of the advantages that I mentioned earlier. After talking to Pomazak, I believe he also shares my concerns regarding the football championships. Separating the state championships with one for public and one for private would have a multitude of benefits, including the continued competition for the public schools. Though playing private schools definitely challenges your skills and abilities, being able to play more times in more championships against other public schools, that can be just as good as the private schools, will give you more experience as a player and further develop your prowess in the sport.