BY BRANDON SPECK
BELDEN – The private-public school debate has officially gone public.
At the Mississippi High School Activities Association District 1 coaches meeting Wednesday, there were five proposals, none more controversial than one by Smithville principal Chad O’Brian.
He introduced a proposal that would, at the next reclassification, disallow private, parochial and boarding schools from being MHSAA members.
“We’re all governed by a common set of rules, level playing field,” O’Brian said. “We just don’t feel that as long as you open loopholes, such as the 20-mile radius, who can, who can’t be on scholarship, those type things … certainly we don’t feel that any of those schools intentionally break rules. We just feel that the way it’s written right now, it’s next to impossible to level the playing field.”
Tupelo Christian was the lone private school at the meeting. Of the 14 non-public school members in the MHSAA, a majority are in south Mississippi. The MHSAA has 265 total member schools.
The O’Brian proposal passed by a majority of votes from the 41 schools in attendance at Belden’s Itawamba CC campus and now moves over to the MHSAA executive meeting in October.
The major concern, debated quietly until now, has been the ability of private schools to accept students from within a 20-mile radius, while public schools allow only students in their smaller district.
“I think it’s a level playing field. That 20-mile radius seems to be an issue,” MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said. “Six of these schools have been in our association for 40 years. We feel like our schools are abiding by the rules, as far as we know.”
Hinton pointed out that scholarships are not allowed at any school, but that students prior to their ninth grade year can choose to go to either school within the parameters.
TCPS baseball coach Will Lowrey said this open conversation will help clear some of the confusion.
“In the past, you always hear, ‘Private schools can recruit.’ Well, that’s in the MAIS,” Lowrey said. “That’s not the case when you get in the MHSAA.”