It’s time for a change, MHSAA

Change seems to be all the rage right now. Whether it is politics or sports, people want to get rid of the status quo.

When it comes to high school football in Michigan, those voices are getting increasingly louder. As a newer resident of the state — I’ve been here for just over two years — I’ve been told that there has been a movement for some time to split the public schools from the private schools when it comes to postseason play. After watching last weekend’s MHSAA state championship football games, I agree with them.

The majority of this year’s winners came from private schools and in some divisions, that’s been the case for quite awhile.

Grand Rapids West Catholic has taken the last four Division 5 championships, including a blowout victory over Menominee this year.

Muskegon Catholic Central has done the same at the Division 8 level and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s has taken the last three in District 3. Until Detroit Martin Luther King’s recent success, private schools won the previous four championships in Division 2.

Private schools have a distinct advantage over public schools in that they can recruit athletes from anywhere to come play for them. Public schools, on the other hand, are restricted to the boundaries of their district, which limits your talent pool significantly.

High school sports are supposed to strive for fairness, but this is hardly fair. Let’s say you’re a new football coach in the Upper Peninsula and you’re trying to put together a team. There’s some skill there, but you’re stuck with having to make do with what you have.

Meanwhile, some private school can pick up some kids with NCAA Division I football careers ahead of them. There’s a handful of coaches who can shrug that off and win state titles (see Ishpeming’s Jeff Olson), but if you’re rebuilding a program, that’s a huge obstacle to overcome.

Michigan does have the concept called “school choice,” so local kids can choose to attend a district other than where they reside. That’s a good start, but those players have to sit out a semester if they decide to transfer. That again puts the public schools behind the private schools, even though the intentions are good.

This debate isn’t just isolated to Michigan, either. Tennessee has already made the split into separate championships and has had success with it for years. New York might be voting on a proposal to split the two sides in January.

In my home state of Minnesota, there’s been grumbling about it for some time. When a private school wins a state hockey championship over a scrappy school from the Iron Range, I’m pretty sure the state’s soul dies a little.

There have even been talks of secession in some states with some public schools creating their own organizations. This may seem extreme, but it shows just how much passion people have for this issue.

There’s another side of this argument, saying that if the kids are good enough, they should be able to defeat these private schools. Sometimes that’s true (again see that Olson fellow), but in more cases, it’s not.

Another argument is that these are just kids and it’s all for fun. That is accurate in that it is all about fun and good sportsmanship, but when coaches try to get kids from competing public districts to play for them, it makes high school football start to veer toward college football. The only similarity there is that none of the players get paid (yes, that was said tongue in cheek).

The bottom line is that a change needs to happen. In my years as a writer, I’ve seen some talented public schools put together some great regular seasons and then get lit up in the postseason by a private school with a couple NFL prospects. It frustrates me along with other journalists.

Kids work really hard for their success and if their seasons come to an end, it should be at the hands of a school with a similar level of talent instead of one who nabbed a bunch of stars from other towns and called it a “team.”

High school sports are about creating fond memories while playing on a level playing field. It’s time that we actually make that a reality.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is