SI's top high school sports programs: an exercise in money
SI.com recently released its list of the top high school sports programs in each state. They were based on results in the 2008-09 academic years, as well as interviews with athletic directors and weighing the school’s propensity to produce star athletes and nationally ranked teams. Given the financial support of the schools on the list, the results are as surprising as seeing the Yankees and Red Sox on top of the American League East.
Just like in academics, money and community support are huge in determining what is an elite athletic school, and what is not. At the scholastic level, sports is not an equalizer. It reflects the same gaps between school districts you would notice looking at standardized test scores.
Six out of the top 10 overall — including No. 1 Punahou School of Honolulu (you might have heard of one its former basketball players) — are private schools. The other four are suburban.
Sarah Palin ain’t the only politician working who can work in a basketball metaphor. Wait, I forgot, she’s not working.
The SI.com list is broken down by top program in each state, as well as the District and Columbia. The breakdown, by category of school:
Private schools: 20. Eighteen of those were Catholic or Jesuit. The exceptions are Punahou (an indpendent private school) and John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La. No wonder public schools are constantly lobbying their state high school athletic associations to put some sort of multiplier on private schools so they have to move up to a larger class designation.
Suburban schools: 16. There are more than you’d might think, given the addresses such as Millard West in Omaha, Neb., Union in Tulsa, Okla., and Ben Davis in Indianapolis. But all are in suburban districts, not part of the center city schools.
Small towns schools: 6. One of them, Camden Hills Regional in Rockport, Maine, has gotten approval to become a quasi-private school, accepting foreign students at $35,000 a pop just like some of the private schools in the state.
College town schools: 2. Fayetteville, Ark. (University of Arkansas), and Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University).
Not quite small town, not quite urban, not quite suburban: 3. I’m reserving this category for Billings (Montana) West, Pocatello (Idaho) Highland and Sioux Falls (S.D.) Lincoln. They’re in cities with more than one high school, so they’re not totally small town. But they aren’t exactly gritty urban settings. But they’re their own cities, not suburbs. So I made up this category.
That leaves four schools that could qualify as urban schools: La Cueva in Albuquerque, Hillsboro in Nashville, Dimond in Anchorage, Alaska, and Muskegon, Mich.
However, La Cueva is essentially a suburban school in a city district, with its location on the northeast edge of Albuquerque, the wealthiest portion of a city with few suburbs. Hillsboro is an urban school, but it also is home to one of Nashville’s International Baccalaureate programs, making it a regular in Newsweek’s annual top 1,500 high schools list. Dimond, on its Wikipedia page, has someone bragging it has the greatest alumni support of any high school in Alaska.
So it’s not that those schools are not urban. It’s just that each has circumstances that give it financial and community support beyond what most urban schools receive.
That leaves Muskegon, Mich.
Muskegon doesn’t seem like much of an urban area, not with a population of 39,ooo (and falling). However, as one of the many examples of Michigan manufacturing centers whose jobs have gone elsewhere, the city’s demographics mirror those of many urban schools: a 40 percent minority population, and about 30 percent of its children below the poverty line.
So how do its programs stand out while other urban schools suffer? Well, it probably helps that it’s the only high school in the city, so it can receive all of the community’s focus. It also helps that Muskegon, since the 1920s, has been a consistent football power in Michigan, so there is a standard to uphold for sports. Some might also argue that the sports can remain strong because all you need to do to play is pass, barely, two-thirds of your classes.
Still, Muskegon might be the best model worth studying for anyone trying to keep urban school sports thriving. If SI.com’s list is indicative, it’s the only model out there.