Several high school girls basketball programs in the Southcentral Conference are protesting games that were scheduled against a private school in Anchorage, saying the disparity between them and the rest of the conference is not fair to players.
Chad Felice, Homer High School girls head coach, said Anchorage Christian Schools has dominated the league for the five years that he’s been in his position, but that the conversation surrounding equity in the sport is an old one.
To protest the perceived lack of parity, the girls basketball program at Joe Redington High School recently canceled a game it was scheduled to play against ACS. Then the girls program at Houston High School followed suit. The Homer girls team canceled its Feb. 23 game with ACS, and the Seward girls team, as of last Friday, is set to play ACS under protest this coming weekend.
Felice and assistant coach Wendy Todd said the issue comes down to the fact that private schools like ACS have access to more resources than public schools, both financially and in where their students (and players) can come from.
Public schools, like West, South and East high schools in Anchorage, have certain boundaries from which their student populations come. A student in the boundary for East, for example, wouldn’t normally go to South. ACS, on the other hand, does not have those kinds of boundaries and can have students from anywhere in Anchorage.
“They have a financial advantage,” Todd said. “They can go out and recruit players if they choose to. The other thing that is difficult is that Anchorage has a lot more resources and these kids are not only in a private school setting but they’re given the resources and such to play year-round.”
Felice and Todd say this adds up to a lack of parity when teams from private schools play teams from public schools. There are two additional private schools within the Class 3A school size — Monroe Catholic High School in Fairbanks and Grace Christian School in Anchorage.
The teams that canceled their games with ACS did so as a way to protest what they see as unfair playing circumstances.
“We don’t want to take anything away from those girls and those players at ACS, because they’ve put in the time, and blood, sweat and tears in the gym and gotten to the point where they’re at,” Felice said. “It’s just to the point where nobody gets anything out of winning by 80 (points) or losing by 80.”
“Enough’s enough,” he continued. “We need a little parity in 3A basketball.”
In addition to canceling their Feb. 23 game, the Homer program sent a letter of proposals to the Alaska School Activities Association, the regulating body for high school interscholastic activities.
“Maybe the private schools could be in a … region of their own and get one bid to a state tournament from that region,” Todd said. “Or maybe they should play in … the 4A league.”
“So rather than count the number of kids that actually go to the school, count the number of people in the borders where they can get kids to come in and play,” Felice added.
He said another option could be to give private schools the same parameters to follow as public schools, such as only being able to pull students/players from the district where the school is located.
Todd and Felice first talked to their players about the issue to find out how they felt, and then had a parent meeting, Todd said.
“This was all a process,” she said. “And I think just knowing how they felt when they walked off the court, when they didn’t feel like they learned anything from that experience, didn’t make it very enjoyable for them. And high school athletics should be enjoyable.”
“There should be some character-building where you’re going to lose games and whatnot,” Felice said. “But there also needs to be a fine line between character-building and just getting beat down.”
Rylee Doughty, a Homer junior, is one of the Mariners’ co-captains. She said it feels good that the team is doing something after several years of the status quo.
“I feel like it’s a good step on our part, because it’s kind of taking a stand for our team,” she said.
Doughty said she likes that canceling the game is a civil way of “showing that we don’t really agree with their sportsmanship and the things that they’re doing.”
She said losing to private schools by a very large number of points feels different than losing to another team in the conference, or another Kenai Peninsula team like Kenai Central or Nikiski. If being beaten by 80-or-so points happened once, Doughty said it’s a way to learn what that feels like. It’s when it starts happening over and over that things change.
“It’s like discouraging. I don’t know how else to say it I guess,” she said. “It’s a different kind of lose. It’s not like, oh, we can bounce back from that. It’s kind of just like well that really …. it just feels different I guess.”
Jason Hofacker, principal at ACS, said the school understands that the other girls teams in the region are protesting their games.
“We’re disappointed that they’re forfeiting,” he said.
Hofacker said the school has reached out to the other basketball programs, mainly through their athletic directors, and talked with them about the protest.
The school has turned the issue over to ASAA, Hofacker said, which will deal with how to handle the forfeitures. Aside from that, Hofacker said ACS is trying to stay out of it.
“We’re disappointed that they didn’t play us, but that’s their decision and now ASAA will follow up,” he said.
The Seward girls basketball team coach did not return a call for comment by the time this story went to press.