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The Williston High School baseball team lost its regional championship game Friday night. It was still the best public school in its classification.
The Red Devils are de facto state champions. In a league full of private schools with greater talent and greater resources, the Red Devils were highly impressive in one of the best runs from one of the best teams in school history. They went further than any public school in the competitive 4A league. Without the benefits of urestricted recruitment, athlete selection and private-school resources, Williston was able to beat all the public schools it faced in the post season. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep up with Bishop Moore Catholic High School- and their annual $13,116 tuition for non-catholics.
The six other schools in the 4A elite eight were: Pensacola Catholic, Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Bishop Verot Catholic, Berkley Preparatory, Monsignor Edward Pace and Gulliver Preparatory. Have you noticed a theme?
Other Williston sports have had similar troubles with private schools. Athletic director and head football coach Jamie Baker decided to remove Williston football from their brutal 4A division and go independent. While it denied the Red Devils a chance to make the playoffs last season and for this upcoming season, it lets them avoid games against Trinity Catholic. Willistons’ games against the Celtics are annual beat-downs at the hands of one of the state’s premier private programs. Even with Trinity in the district, Williston made the playoffs in 2009. Its reward? A 48-0 thrashing in Jacksonville against national powerhouse, and private school, the Bolles Academy.
This enormous disparity has ruined the natural competitive balance of the Florida High School Athletic Association. Schools like Wiliston, Bronson, Chiefland and Cedar Key are getting slaughtered once, and if, they get through regions because they are forced to go against schools that have similar population sizes but enormous disparities in their ability to garner talent.
Private schools can offer scholarships like college. Small rural schools are stuck with the limited supply of bodies from the town.
One solution is to create a separate FHSAA of public school and a proposed private school league. This system has worked effectively in states like Texas, Virginia and Mississippi. But Separation doesn’t seem to be getting any closer in Florida. A bill in the Florida state senate this spring didn’t get vary far. Instead, law makers went the opposite direction, creating a bill that allows for greater transfer of athletes. That will leave these private schools more powerful. The smaller schools with only a local base to use to field teams may begin to lose what few elite athletes they have.
The discrepancy between the private and public school isn’t as bad in many of the other classifications. The FHSAA’s recent realignment, which created the “rural” 1A classification and includes Chiefland, Bronson and Cedar Key, has also helped. But many schools, such as Williston, are left surrounded by giants. The class 4A bracket looks like a private-school only division anyway. Why not make it official? Let schools like Williston have a chance.
Public schools may not get recognition for their fight against private schools anytime soon. In the meantime, public schools may want to look into giving themselves their own state titles.