By Michael Podoll, Associate Publisher/Managing Editor,
Coach & Athletic Director
Just before the start of the 2010 school year, 10 of the top boys basketball players in the Milwaukee City Conference (Milwaukee, Wis.) simultaneously announced that they were all transferring to out-of-state prep schools or privately funded academies.
This isn’t simply a case where these student-athletes banded together to form a basketball super team such as Findley Prep (Las Vegas, Nev.) or Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). What makes this story a fascinating case study is that in this instance, most of the players — each of whom are being recruited by major Division 1 colleges — went to different out-of- state schools.
This mass exodus from the Milwaukee City Conference saw these talented young players going to places such as Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.), Christian Life School (Humble, Texas), Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.), Oldsmar Christian School (Tampa, Fla.), Southern Carolina Prep School (N.C.), etc.
From a pure basketball standpoint, having nearly a dozen players of this caliber all leave the city at the same time has dramatically changed the competitive landscape of the conference. More importantly, this has ignited a heated debate in Milwaukee over whether or not this trend is a good or bad thing.
The finger of blame among high school coaches, school administrators and City Conference fans is being pointed at the usual targeted suspects — select-team coaches. The common accusation most-often heard is that this entire situation is all part of a nefarious plan pulled together by a combination of select-team coaches, relatives of players and college recruiters to eventually funnel these young athletes toward a particular prep school, and later, college (who may or may not be tied into a particular brand of footwear).
This may be true in some instances. After all, doesn’t it always seem as if the people who circumvent the rules are always one step ahead of the institutions that create and enforce the policies?
Where this particular subject veers into a fork in the road is the current state of many inner-city schools. Maybe the best interest of the student-athlete is to “get them out of Dodge” and attend a preparatory academy. Once relocated to an out-of-state private school, the student- athlete is removed from the inner-city temptations and people who unscrupulously glom onto the young star athletes, shower them with gear, bags, shoes and pay their cell-phone bills in hopes of some sort of professional- athlete type of payoff down the road.
Saying that this is a good thing assumes that the prep school they’re attending is on the up-and-up and has the best interest of the student-athlete at heart.
“Sometimes I don’t think these kids fully understand what they are getting into. Not every prep school is Oak Hill or Brewster,” said Ty Moseler, head boys coach at Milwaukee South Division High School in an interview with WisSports.net. “Some of these places are no different than a junior college — cramped apartments, no transportation, no meal plan or limited food, small crowds with no atmosphere for games.”
At the same time, safety concerns have forced public- school gymnasiums in places such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and even South Carolina, to be closed to the public, which also may not be the best atmosphere for any student-athlete (elite or otherwise).
Then again, some of the most fun, raucous high-school atmospheres I’ve ever personally witnessed have come at City Conference games where no problems occurred. (And saying that a high-school-age person is better off moving away from their home is a social judgment I’m not ready to make in a 700-word column.)
That’s why this is a complex and fascinating subject — are we driving head-first into a sports-academy system like Europe currently has? And is that a bad thing? High school basketball is the first to feel the sting of this phenomenon but don’t think for a moment that this isn’t going to touch other sports.
And how long before we see a preparatory academy that specializes in recruiting young football players from around the country?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and publish the responses in an upcoming column. It should make for a riveting debate.
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