Catholic schools won eight of 11 winter sports championships in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, proving once again that public schools do not stand a chance in this state, right? Catholic and private schools should compete in their own league, right?
Well, not so fast. Yes, La Salle Academy had a great winter in winning state titles in boys and girls ice hockey, boys and girls indoor track and boys basketball. Bishop Hendricken won its third consecutive state championship in wrestling and returned to the top spot in boys swimming, a position it has held for 25 of the last 26 years. St. Mary Academy Bay View won the inaugural girls open state basketball championship.
But Barrington High School won the girls swimming championship, North Kingstown finished first in gymnastics, and East Providence came out on top in cheering.
In fact, from 2000 to 2015, public school girls have won more state and Division I championships than private school girls. The publics have 131 titles, or 53.5 percent, the privates 114, or 46.5 percent.
On the boys side private schools have the edge: 136 championships, or 57.4 percent, to 101, or 42.6 percent.
Overall since 2000, private schools have won 250 titles, 51.9 percent, and public schools 232, or 48.1 percent. Private schools have dominated boys cross-country, hockey, basketball, swimming, indoor track and lacrosse and girls soccer, tennis, basketball, ice hockey and gymnastics. Public schools have dominated boys wrestling, golf (co-ed) and tennis and girls field hockey, volleyball, softball, lacrosse and golf (co-ed). Public schools have won 15 consecutive tennis titles.
Private schools have an edge in football, boys soccer, baseball, boys lacrosse and boys outdoor track titles. Public schools have the edge in boys volleyball and individual golf and girls cross-country, swimming and individual golf.
What do these statistics tell us? The playing field is tilted slightly in favor of private schools, but not so much that the Interscholastic League should jettison them and run a league for public schools only. In general, private schools have an advantage because they recruit students from all over the state. Indeed, they must recruit to remain viable. Unlike public school districts that have a captive audience, private schools must entice students to visit, apply and attend. And parents of those students must pay tuition over and above the property taxes they pay to cover public school expenses in their cities and towns.
Are some of those recruited students also athletes? Of course. What baseball player touring La Salle for its academics wouldn’t be dazzled by its artificial turf baseball field? What hockey player wouldn’t like a school-owned ice rink, which Mount St. Charles Academy has? Facilities make a difference, and La Salle and Bishop Hendricken have some of the best. If elected officials at the state and local level over the years had invested in their school facilities as private schools have – and I mean classrooms, laboratories and studios as well as fields, courts and gyms – then parents might opt to send their children to those public schools. And some of those children might be the athletes to help narrow the championship gap.