Albertus Magnus was informed Monday that its girls basketball team would be moving up to Class AA, the highest classification in Section 1, starting this season.
The ruling means the three most prominent private school girls basketball programs in Section 1 — Albertus Magnus, Ursuline, and Lourdes — will be competing together in Class AA for the first time ever.
“When Lourdes went on their run, there was no rule,” Albertus Magnus head coach Pat Buckley said Wednesday, referring to the Warriors’ stretch of 19 section titles from 1986-2007, when they were bumped up to Class AA. “Recently, (the section is) more in tune to it.”
Whether the decision to move Albertus Magnus up was right or wrong can be debated long after the Falcons’ incoming freshmen class graduates, but it is the lesser of two evils.
The topic of private schools competing for public school championships — such as Section 1 and New York State Public High School Athletic Association titles — has been a sore one for decades, and understandably so.
Public schools argue that privates should not be allowed to compete for the same championships because of their ability to draw any student to their school. While public schools often boast significantly higher enrollment numbers, they can only draw from students who live in the area.
Private schools argue that, while they can draw any student from any location, there is also thousands of dollars in tuition associated with the student’s enrollment. The tuition at Albertus Magnus will cost just under $11,500 for the upcoming school year, according to the school’s website. Lourdes and Ursuline come with bills of $8,000 and $18,250, respectively, according to their sites.
This does not include personal reasons for a student’s attendance, such as wanting a Catholic school education or their family’s legacy at the school.
Both sides have valid points, but nonetheless, the issue remains.
Several public school coaches in lower classifications have gone on record saying that if private schools with competitive sports programs have to compete in the section, then they should be playing in the highest classification — which boasts the largest schools by enrollment numbers. The section’s decision Monday granted those wishes.
“My opinion, if you’re a private school, you should be in AA — that goes across the board. Albertus, as well,” Pelham girls basketball head coach Tim Pitrulle said last year, just before it was finalized that Ursuline would drop down to Class A for the 2015-16 season. “If (private schools) want to be in Section 1, or they’re grandfathered in, it’s understandable. I don’t mind playing them, but if they’re going to play in the playoffs, they should be in the highest class.”
Pitrulle coached at Maria Regina, a private school based in Hartsdale, for more than a decade before taking over at Pelham.
With Albertus Magnus moving up to Class AA, it will abolish the argument that it’s unfair to have some private schools in one classification and some playing in another.
“It does make it more open,” Rye girls basketball head coach Dennis Hurlie, who led the Garnets to a Section 1 Class A title last season, said of this year’s field. “I think it’s basketball where it has the biggest impact, where two or three players can change the landscape of the game.”
Albertus Magnus, which has reached the Westchester County Center — home of the Section 1 basketball championships — in 17 consecutive seasons, should extend the streak this year. Ursuline and Lourdes should also be strong contenders for a spot in the section semifinals.
The move has left a sour taste in the mouths of Class AA programs who now feel their chances of reaching the County Center have diminished significantly.
“For some schools, just getting there is the dream — it’s The Mecca for us,” said Fox Lane girls basketball head coach Kris Matts, who coached alongside Pitrulle at Maria Regina. “(Private schools) arguing that, ‘We haven’t won anything,’ for a public school, that’s a really hollow argument.”
Fox Lane has been eliminated from the Section 1 tournament by a private school three times in the past four seasons. No Section 1 girls basketball final has ever featured two private schools.
In a perfect world, private schools would be able to compete with public schools during the regular season before playing for a separate sectional and state title. Those same private schools would then be allowed to participate in the Federation Tournament of Champions at the end of the year.
That’s not the world we live in.
Whatever the section decided in regards to Albertus Magnus, it was bound to rub someone the wrong way. The private schools (the ones who are great at basketball, anyway) are all in the same class, which is at least a step — however small — in the right direction.