One small school administrator backs fourth classification for HS sports

ST. MARYS, W.Va. — Years of complaints are finally being heard and acted upon for those who advocate for small school athletic teams in West Virginia. The longtime cry of Class A public school fans and some coaches is the playing field is uneven.  West Virginia’s most rural and sparsely populated areas are forced to compete with private and parochial schools which can draw students from anywhere.  There are further claims the privates schools are giving the advantage of recruiting athletes.

Jeff Sole, Principal of St. Marys High School in Pleasants County , said the Huntington St. Joseph’s girls basketball team is the most recent example. A highly successful program, St. Joseph’s claimed another Class A title. However, during the regular season, the team was able to beat the much larger Class AAA Parkersburg.

“Year in and year out, our single A girls are going to have to compete against that team in Charleston provided we get there,” Sole said. “It makes it more and more difficult each year to get your kids pumped up to play boys or girls high school basketball knowing when they get to the state tournament, those parochial schools or private schools are always going to be there.”

The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Board of Control will meet Monday and entertain a new proposal. The offered plan calls for creation of four classifications in West Virginia high school sports instead of three. But unlike the current classes, enrollment will not be the lone factor to determine at what level a school’s athletic teams compete.

“We’re actually looking at economics, proximity to bigger cities,” Sole said. “Just like 32 other states do throughout the nation.”

While the example of St. Joseph’s state title in girls basketball holds up, it has not been a complete private school sweep in recent years. Webster County’s Class A title and undefeated season were the talk of the boys state basketball tournament only weeks ago. Class A Moorefield last year topped both Charleston Catholic and Wheeling Central to claim the state baseball championship in Class A. A public school has won four of the last 10 Class A football titles, including one by Sole’s school St. Marys.

“It’s doable, but it’s extremely difficult on a year to year basis,” said Sole.

The changes could send some of the eight private schools up a classification. The changes could also reclassify public schools into a more difficult circumstance. It’s possible, with the way things are presently arranged, some off the private schools may not be affected and will stay in class A. Ultimately, the process could leave two private schools as state champions, in two different classifications.

“We’re hoping some of these parochial and private schools will bump up a class on their own,” Sole said. “We can’t make them do that, but that’s a factor we’re all looking at.,”

The Board of Control allowed for the voluntary move up in a change to bylaws last year.

“I’m glad we’re coming together to at least go in the right direction,” said Sole. “It may not be perfect in the first and second year, but we can come back to the drawing board and see what we can do to make this fair for all schools.”


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