Breaking public-private impasse would be benefit to all

On High Schools

September 20, 2005|By MILTON KENT

All day Saturday, veterans and newcomers by the thousands marveled at the course for the area's most prestigious invitational cross country meet, the Bull Run at Hereford, as kids from the four corners of Maryland, as well as from Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia ran and ran up and down the hills at Parkton.

And, as if right out of a line out of a Stevie Wonder classic, kids from public and private schools from all over the Mid-Atlantic ran together and against each other. With any luck, it will happen again next year.

Whether it does may be contingent on if the two sides in the flap between public and private schools in the area over rules and standards can find common ground today in a meeting in the office of Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools.

Both Ned Sparks, the executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, and Rick Diggs, his counterpart at Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, which represents the Baltimore area boys' private and parochial schools, expressed hope yesterday that they can find rapprochement at today's meeting, but it won't be easy.

At issue are a set of rules, the Standards of Competition, enacted by the state over the summer in response to a judge's order to settle a lawsuit brought by the coach of a wrestling team made up of home-schooled children. The coach, Carlos Sandoval, sued the MPSSAA because the governing body threatened to sanction any public school that wrestled against Sandoval's Progressive Christian Academy on the grounds that the home schoolers didn't meet specific eligibility criteria.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled earlier this month that the standards drawn up by the MPSSAA in July represented a fair compromise to allow home-schooled kids to participate, provided they followed rules that established age limits and eligibility guidelines.

Motz's ruling ended the lawsuit, but it opened a chasm between the MPSSAA and the private schools.

While some schools and conferences agreed to the standards, others such as the MIAA and its girls equivalent, the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, have not, citing differences in eligibility and transfer policies.

Diggs said yesterday that officials in the two bodies have issues with six of the 17 standards, and met in unprecedented fashion last week to discuss those differences.

"Those [eligibility and transfer issues] are some problematic areas," Diggs said. "And I understand the dilemma that came out of the court suit. But it's my feeling that we were caught in the middle. We've competed with public schools for over 100 years in our two organizations, through the MSA [Maryland Scholastic Association] and now the MIAA. There's never been any questions."

Further complicating matters is the fact that the MPSSAA is Maryland's recognized high school athletic governing body by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Other states that belong to the NFHS will only sanction out-of-state competition between schools that are recognized by the official state organization.

That rule has tripped up IAAM and MIAA schools and athletes in recent months. For example, Towson Catholic track performer Devon Williams, last year's Sun Female Athlete of the Year, was kept out of a number of prestigious meets in New York, because her school, at the time, was not sanctioned by Maryland.

Sparks granted clearance for Williams on a number of occasions, but Mount St. Joseph's cross country team has pulled out of a meet in Rochester, N.Y., next month because the school hasn't signed off on Maryland's standards, and thus isn't a recognized school.

"Now, things have changed," said Sparks. "We do have a mechanism to approve of them. By agreeing to the Standards of Competition, they no longer would be recommended by us, they could be approved by us."

That, of course, raises the question: Why should the private schools sign a document they don't agree with simply to get approval to play across state lines, as well as schools in Maryland that they have been playing for 100 years?

Settling this matter is going to require a great deal of trust between the two sides, something that has been in short supply among the big educational wigs in this state. Here's hoping that the folks in the big offices learn to do what the kids and coaches on the fields and in the gyms in private and public schools have done for years, namely put aside their differences and play.

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