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If You Must, Do Reclassification for Right Reasons

SHAWN RINE Staff Writer

WHEELING — As I was perusing the internet the other day, along came a picture that caught my eye.

It was a ”leaked” version of what is apparently the latest movement in hopes of reclassification as it pertains to high school sports in the state of West Virginia. In this photo it had schools broken down into four classes: large urban, large rural, small urban and small rural.

My initial reaction was that at least those complaining the loudest are finally getting to the root of the problem, if in fact there is one to begin with. This has never been a private vs. public issue, as many want you to believe. It is and always will be about location, or more specifically population density.

I was talking with a friend recently about this very issue, and this is what we were able to come up with. Remember, though, that this wasn’t an official document and as such, would still need tweaking before being presented to the W.Va. Department of Education.

So if reclassification is the way to go, and four classes is the goal, let’s do it this way:

∫ Take the Top 16 teams, which don’t change much from year to year and are generally head and shoulders above the rest, and make them into Class AAAA. Everyone makes the playoffs in football, but you would hopefully have a more legitimate tournament. You draw a line either north and south or east and west, and the eight teams on each side play each other every season. That helps with scheduling and you still have three games to play with on a yearly basis.

∫ Take the smaller Triple-A schools that have a difficult time — for any number of reasons — competing with those at the top, and combine them with the top Class AA schools to make a highly attractive and competitive Class AAA division.

∫ That leaves you with somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 schools that are ”in between.” Cut those right in half to make your Class AA and A fields.

∫ Finally, and this is always where the conversation gets contentious, the smallest 16 teams in the state move to eight-man football. Let’s be trustful here.

There are some Class A teams that can’t currently hold a full practice because they don’t have enough players to do so. This would help on a number of levels and a state championship, if that’s indeed the goal of reclassification, becomes attainable.

Before anyone says those numbers don’t add up, this was never meant to be exact. It’s a guide to use if and when the time comes that change occurs.

My concern, however, is the reason for doing this. From my perspective it might as well be referred to as ‘The Catholic School Rule’. Again, if we’re being honest, that’s what we’re talking about here. That’s where the argument is centered.

Of course locally, that means Wheeling Central.

The Maroon Knights athletics department had an unparalleled run of success last year and the football team is in the process of burying the rest of the Class A field in record fashion. So the allegations of ‘they recruit’ and ‘they’re cheaters’ that never ceases, is roaring as it never has.

Specifically as it pertains to the football program, I get the following: they go to Moundsville, Glen Dale, the Ohio side of the river and even to Washington, Pa., to get their players. While that’s not inaccurate, it’s not totally accurate either.

Wheeling Central has four kids on its roster — none of whom starts — from Washington, Pa., and Ohio. The two from Washington went to parochial school all the way up but there is no catholic school in that area. The two from Ohio went to St. John, which doesn’t offer football.

That’s four kids off a 35-player roster. We’re not talking about a Class AAA-sized school. The overwhelming majority of these kids came up in the catholic system, and yes, that includes a couple prominent players who came aboard when Bishop Donahue closed.

But here’s the thing about that. Sometimes if you’re not a part of something it’s difficult to fully understand. But to a lot of families having their child or children get a religion-based education is of high importance. The logical step for those leaving Bishop Donahue, was Wheeling Central.

Another ridiculous allegation is that Wheeling Central keeps its numbers down so it can remain in Single A. Let’s take a closer look at that one.

First of all, according to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission website, Wheeling Central has 257 kids compared to the 460 at Man High School, which is the smallest Class AA school. That’s a difference of 203 students, or to put it in financial terms, $4,872,000 if each one of those kids was a Maroon Knight for four years. Tuition to attend the East Wheeling School is $6,000 a year.

Now, if anyone reading this thinks a private school that relies on tuition, donations and fundraising to pay the bills is going to turn down nearly $5M in order to win a a couple state championships, the problem isn’t with Central, it’s with your train of thought.

All that being said, does Wheeling Central have an advantage? I think if you asked people there they would honestly say that is true. But the advantage is where the school is located, not that those in charge are breaking the rules.

My only hope is that if reclassification happens, it’s for the right reasons. But instead of helping to lift others up, it appears easier in today’s world to put them down. So I won’t be holding my breath.

Shawn Rine can be reached via email at: srine@theintelligencer.net

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