Public vs. Private: Idea looks good on sports pages

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 28, 2001

It looks good on paper.

The agreement allowing Mississippi High School ActivitiesAssociation schools to play members of the Mississippi PrivateSchool Association is a dream come true for many coaches, playersand fans. The hard part is making it work.

Certainly, there is high interest in Lincoln County and thesurrounding area. In a meeting last week, the MHSAA ExecutiveCommittee and MPSA officials hammered out a plan. The trial periodwill last one year.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The MHSAA, under the direction of executive director Dr. EnnisProctor, said private schools which are accredited by the SouthernAssociation of Colleges and Schools would be acceptable opponents.That means 31 MPSA member schools are eligible and approximately 70are not.

That’s a large stumbling block for some MPSA members. McCombParklane Academy, a Class AAAA school, has taken a strong stanceagainst playing MHSAA/public schools. In a prepared statementprovided by Parklane headmaster Billy Swindle, he noted, “Thepolicy of allowing SAC accredited private schools to play publicschools is not acceptable. All private schools should have theautonomy to make that decision.

“Our MPSA should have the same validity as the SAC’saccreditation. With that said, Parklane Academy is not now nor inthe future interested in playing public schools.”

“In my opinion, few MPSA schools, with the exception of JacksonPrep and some other Jackson area schools, will schedule publicschools, except perhaps in spring sports.”

Parklane, with approximately 260 students in grades 9-12, wouldbe on the bottom of the totem pole in Pike County. The Pioneers aremembers of the MPSA’s largest classification but they would be farbehind McComb, South Pike and North Pike in high schoolenrollment.

Parklane annually produces a strong athletic program. It islooking for at least a level playing field. The Pioneers would beat a disadvantage when it comes to numbers. And numbers arecritical in a team sport like football.

Brookhaven Academy, by comparison, has 120 high school students.The Class AA Cougars would be battling larger county schools inClass 2A Loyd Star (261), and Class 1A Enterprise (209), WestLincoln (175) and Bogue Chitto (160).

Still, the competitive juices flow freely. Brookhaven Academyhas produced some outstanding basketball teams in recent years.Basketball can survive with five or six good players. It’s adifferent story in football.

Basketball always had been a hot item in Lincoln County.Consider a BA-West Lincoln matchup. The gymnasium would beoverflowing with interested fans. Tickets would be sold out andthere would be a standing-room-only crowd. Quick, call the firemarshal.

Certainly, large crowds would come to any basketball gameinvolving BA versus the county schools.

Who would be willing to take the first step on the localscene?

Loyd Star boys basketball coach Gene “Moochie” Britt coached 21years at BA before leaving the education field for two years. Brittis now in his sixth year at Loyd Star and the possibility of BAplaying Loyd Star excites him.

“We are interested in playing them,” said Britt. “We have somedates to fill and the gate would be good.”

Britt can speak with basketball experience. “There are some goodteams in the private school league who can compete and others whocan’t. It’s a good brand of basketball on the higher level.”

The Brookhaven Academy school board might address the issue atMonday night’s board meeting. There are pros and cons on both sidesof the issue.

It shouldn’t be a black/white racial issue. The MPSA has severalschools with black players on their athletic teams. In fact,CM&I of Jackson, an all black school, applied for membership inthe MPSA and was welcomed last year.

The political barriers which once haunted Mississippi’s pasthave been removed. During the summer months, public and privateschool teams often compete in AAU basketball and American Legionbaseball.

It’s time to play the game.

Besides, it would make a great story.