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Next FHSAA vote likely to split public, private playoffs

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Previewed as "the most dramatic change in Florida high school sports," the split between public and private schools almost took place last weekend.

The issue did not go away. The Florida High School Activities Association likely will vote on the split at its next board of directors meeting Aug. 4-5.

At its board meeting last weekend, the debate over holding separate playoffs for public and private schools took 90 minutes. The majority appeared leaning toward a split _ reflecting the results of a statewide survey of principals.

But there also was an uneasy feeling that the FHSAA was rushing into this "most dramatic change," said board vice president Norm Shearin, who proposed tabling the motion. By an 18-13 vote (one abstention, one absence), the board postponed a decision.

In August, there will be no more reason for delay.

Will the desire to split go away by then? No.

Here's why:

Majority rule. Public schools dominate the FHSAA. Only three private-school principals sit on the 33-member board. In the recent survey, 64 percent of all principals wanted to split. Among public school principals, the percentage wanting to split rose to 75.

Perception of inequity. The board just passed a new rule limiting transfers. It hopes to cut down on recruiting by penalizing varsity athletes who transfer from one school to another.

But private schools still have no zones to restrict them, they can offer financial aid to offset tuition costs, and they can attract athletes before they begin varsity competition.

Even if private schools follow the rules, "they have a fair advantage," said board member Tim Starling, superintendent of Baker County and the most outspoken of the separatists. "You know the saying, "You got the gold mine, we got the shaft.'


The FHSAA cannot mandate zones for private schools, so many will always believe they have an advantage.

No harm. Technically, separating private from public schools does little harm to anyone. Private school officials say they are being discriminated against, but private and public schools could still play each other during the regular season. And they still could compete for state championships _ in separate divisions.

As it stands now, officials from small public schools feel they are harmed by the rules. Private schools dominate competition among small schools in several sports. Currently, the separation issue takes two forms: separate all private schools from public, or separate only the smaller ones (Class 3A and lower).

If a split occurs, the largest harm may come politically and financially. Private schools could withdraw their FHSAA membership (and membership dues) and form their own organization.

In August, high school sports in Florida could be facing a most dramatic change.

Money, money, money: The FHSAA does not want to lose anyone's membership dues, especially since it increased the dues up to 200 percent in some cases. Schools used to pay $100 to $400 (depending on enrollment). The new rates are $300 to $1,000.

The FHSAA says it needs the money because of legal fees and one damaging judgment against it (the FHSAA paid $295,000 to a high school swimmer who became a quadriplegic after diving into a shallow pool).

The FHSAA also upped ticket prices at district events from $3 to $4. The FHSAA charges higher for state events _ like $12 for basketball finals.

At its meeting, the FHSAA also agreed to move its August meeting from its Gainesville headquarters to the Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort near Haines City (the FHSAA said lodging and transportation cost would be similar).

"It's ridiculous," said board member Thomas Rowland, principal of Jay High School. "We're raising dues, but we're going to a golf and tennis resort for our meeting."

Nice depth: When Boca Ciega won its own boys basketball tournament in December, two Pirates were named to the all-tournament team, Dain Brown and Elbert Newton.

When the Pirates won the state title, two players were named to the all-tournament team, Corey Ellis and Andy Bolin. Also, Hank Grant and Darren Howard played key roles.

And for the title defense in 1995? Only seniors Ellis and Grant will be missing.