MASSILLON – You couldn’t blame Zanesville fans for being bitter following its loss to Akron Hoban, given the uneven playing field the Blue Devils encountered.
Hoban and fellow Catholic school rival St. Vincent-St. Mary, like many private schools in metropolitan areas, get their pick of talent, where they can offer “a way out,” for public school city kids — at least the talented ones — who otherwise wouldn’t get the exposure.
It’s how kids like LeBron James, of SVSM basketball lore, make it from the mean streets of the city to the private school Cul-de-sac, where the education is better, discipline is demanded and the coaching is usually upper-echelon.
In Hoban’s case, it’s how you end up with guys like Todd Sibley and Jonah Morris, high school difference makers in the backfield who will be playing at big time programs. Sibley is a running back committed to Ohio State; Morris is a 6-4 receiver and linebacker verballed to Michigan State.
Then you get a transfer like Danny Clark, a 6-5, 220-pound quarterback who played two years at Massillon Washington before transferring in the offseason. He too is committed to Ohio State.
Zanesville coach Chad Grandstaff referred to the Knights as “the Akron All-Stars” during his postgame interview, citing pride in the fact that a bunch of “neighborhood kids who grew up together,” as he called them, stood tall against a team many viewed as the best team in Division III.
Zanesville doesn’t have those luxuries, in more ways than one, of a Hoban or SVSM. An All-Star team with players from every school in Muskingum County couldn’t match their talent.
Add a Sibley or Morris to a Zanesville or Tri-Valley, or about any other public school on the cusp, and there is a real probability that both are playing in Week 15. Add them both AND Clark? You can hide the women and children and lock the door.
Schools like Hoban and SVSM are why many public schools have long clamored for separate postseason tournaments, and games like Friday’s — and the other semifinal between Trotwood Madison and Toledo Central Catholic — only add fuel to the conversation.
The ability to seek — or is that poach? — top talent to fill rosters is a tactic only reserved for private schools, although some public programs have certainly tried. You can’t blame them. It is how they survive, and their product often lives up to the billing academically and athletically. Sadly, even tougher transfer rules by the Ohio High School Athletic Association can’t prevent it.
Consider this: Two of the four teams in the D-III state tournament and three of the four in Division IV were parochial, among seven of the 16 teams left in the top four divisions. Of the seven, only Middletown Fenwick comes from a city of less than 100,000, and even it draws from highly populated Butler and Warren counties, with more than 500,000 people.
It’s simply an unfair advantage.
Private schools call it sour grapes, but the reality is it’s simply a fact they don’t want to hear. When you can consistently draw players from middle-to-upper-class families who can afford private schooling, and combine it with select talent from neighboring public schools, you’re going to put a quality product on the field.
Look no further than the results: Parochial schools have won 14 of the last 20 state titles in Divisions I-IV, dating to 2010. They’ve won five straight, and are guaranteed a sixth, in Division III alone. Considering only 24 of the 393 schools in those divisions are private, that isn’t how the odds should work.
Its all an old story. There is great value to private education, and at places like Rosecrans, Tuscarawas Central Catholic and Bellaire St. John, with barely enough students to keep teams on the field, the athletic discrepancy isn’t even close. That simply can’t be said at bigger schools.
Zanesville would have needed three wins against perennial parochial powers — DeSales, Hoban and Toledo Central Catholic — to win a state title. It would have been an accomplishment for the ages. Getting a title in those circumstances would have required two banners.
Nonetheless, it proved it belonged among the elite. Clark told a few Zanesville players while shaking hands afterward that they were “the best team we’ve played all year.” Cleveland Benedictine and SVSM might argue, but the point was made.
All-Ohio defensive back Braily Blair was a man of many words as the unquestioned leader of Zanesville teams at the turn of the decade. He preached regularly to teammates about “making them remember the night they played Zanesville.”
Blair’s teams never tasted a playoff win, but the mantra his teams embraced has never left the program. These Blue Devils carried the mantle on Friday, even against a stacked deck.
Sadly, those cards won’t be dealt evenly anytime soon.