Public vs Private: The Ultimate High School Debate

By January 6, 2017 No Comments

Should there be separate divisions for public and private high schools?

This is one of the oldest, and most debated, topics in high school sports.

The debate begins and end with recruitment of athletes. Do schools recruit? Yes. Some obviously more than others. Private schools recruit with the use of financial aid and “various” non-athletic scholarships. Public schools recruit kids to move into their district boundaries. This has gone on for as long as I can remember, and will probably continue on for a long time.


Personally, I am more interested in coaching the kids in my program than chasing youth athletes around on the weekend from tournament to tournament. I’m interested in developing and building young people up while teaching the game I love.

I don’t want to be the coach who feels like they must recruit top athletes just to win games. I would rather spend my weekends with my family, than recruiting middle school kids. The purity and true essence of high school sports are lost when this happens.

As a high school coach my focus is to teach, coach, and love the kids I have to the best of my ability. I’ve always done that, and I will continue to do so throughout my career. My value and self-worth won’t be determined by how many games I win and who I can and can’t recruit.


I’ve been on both sides of the debate. I attended, played, and began my coaching career at a small catholic high school. I’ve taught and coached at a small public high school for the past 12 years. The private school I attended did not and does not recruit athletes. The school I work at now does not recruit athletes.

And I prefer it that way. Both schools have our good years and our down years. Things tend to go in cycles in high school athletics. At some point you will be the dog and at some point you will by the hydrant. However, the vision and the mission don’t change. And that is to build champions on and off the floor.

What about the schools who do consistently recruit athletes? Is it fair? Should there be separate divisions for public and private state championships?

It’s obviously an unfair advantage when any school illegally recruits athletes. States do have reporting policies where schools can be punished for illegally contacting potential student-athletes. The threat of discipline from the state isn’t enough to stop some schools from recruiting. Now, does this potentially help a student and their family by giving them better opportunities otherwise not there? Absolutely. But it also skews the balance when competing for championships.

There is no mandate on a national level on how to handle state championships. It is up to each state to decide how they determine a state champion. Here’s a great link to what each state has in place.

Some schools may never win a state championship or much less make a Final Four trip because they have to face a private school powerhouse. I’m not sure completely separating public and private schools is the best option. If that were to happen, there would need to be a classification system.

For public schools: I would base it off of enrollment.

For private schools: I would base it off of enrollment, but into two separate categories. 1) Co-ed division 2) Single-Sex division.

Otherwise I would use a multiplier system like the state of Missouri has.

BANGOR, MAINE -- 02/19/2016 - George Stevens Academy celebrates after defeating Bucksport during their Class C North boys championship basketball game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor Saturday night. Ashley L. Conti | BDN

At the end of the day, it’s not about trophies. Trophies collect dust. It’s about people and relationships built. It’s about memories made and life lessons learned. I hope I win a state championship one day. But if I don’t it won’t change how I value myself or my career.

I’m sure this didn’t settle the debate, but I hope it generates a healthy discussion. So, what’s your take on high school recruiting? Should there be separate divisions for public and private schools?

As always, thanks for reading, have a great week, and be an RGP today!

Coach Elmendorf is available to speak to your team, group, or organization. Message him for details.