Wesson steps up in public-private

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2008

Call it controversial or just good business sense. Take yourpick.

Judging from the latest Wesson Invitational basketballtournament, public and private school basketball teams got alongjust fine, thank you. Attendance was good and enthusiasm washigh.

Obviously, there were a lot of interested parties observing thetournament, some up close and others from a distance. Mostimportantly, the addition of Hillcrest Christian School to the8-school bracket was worth the price of admission.

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Wesson should be congratulated for its vision and courage totake a positive step forward in the long-standing rivalry betweenpublic and private schools. For many years, the public/privatevenue was played only on paper and hotly debated around the kitchentable.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association, a.k.a.public schools, and the Mississippi Private School Association werelike ships passing in the night. They were both on the radar screenbut they tried to avoid each other, content to promote theirrespecitve athletic programs.

A large part of the progress for bringing the two factionstogether began during summer basketball camps when school was outand players and coaches could go and play whomever they pleased. Itquickly spread to summer baseball leagues, too.

The MHSAA and MPSA decided to resume the experiment on a 2-yearbasis last year. Many teams were anxious to give it a try,especially when you pause and consider the prohibitive cost oflong-distance road games just to find an opponent.

Wesson boys basketball coach Ron Kessler is a fervent devotee ofthe roundball sport. He also believes in beating the publicitydrums and building enthusiasum for his passion.

“Putting on a tournament is a lot of hard work,” Kessler pointedout. “You have to have some big-time help; everything fromscorekeepers and clock operators, the concession stand and thehospitality room.”

Kessler said the tournament was a big success. His Cobras lost aclose contest to Hillcrest in the finals. The Lady Cobras, coachedby Hugh Webb, lost to Pelahatchie in the title game.

“We had a good tournament,” said Kessler. “Hillcrest has a goodfollowing.”

Wesson’s ambitious adventure into the private school world ofbasketball has been encouraging. McComb Parklane Academy and CopiahAcademy came to a preseason girls jamboree at Wesson and brought acrowd with them. Wesson played in the Copiah Academy girlstournament back in November and then they took part in theHillcrest Invitational early last month.

“We really enjoyed it at Hillcrest,” said Kessler. “It was areally class act. They made all the teams and coaches feel welcome.They provided food and drink for all of the teams after thegame.

“If we are invited back we would love to go back. We wantHillcrest on our schedule.

“Public and private is a great thing for basketball,” saidKessler. “We want to get Copiah Academy on the schedule, home andhome. They will be good gate/money games, too.”

Kessler’s Cobras won the consolation bracket at Hillcrest. TheLady Cobras lost to private school powerhouse Leake Academy andthen lost a close decision to Silliman in the consolation round. Ina regular-season doubleheader, Wesson swept Central Private Dec.14.

For the record, Kessler would like to have Brookhaven Academy,West Lincoln, Loyd Star and Bogue Chitto added to Wesson’safter-Christmas tourney. Enterprise represented Lincoln County thisyear.

Enterprise almost made basketball history. If the Lady YellowJackets and Jackets had won their opening round games at Wesson,they probably would have played Hillcrest. It would have been thefirst-ever meeting between a Lincoln County school and an MPSAmember.

Some Lincoln County athletic directors are reluctant to playBrookhaven Academy in athletics. They think BA has an unfairrecruiting advantage. By comparsion, Natchez Cathedral, VicksburgSt. Aloysius, Madison St. Joseph and St. Andrew’s actively recruitstudent-athletes. The Catholic schools belong to the MHSAA and aredivision/region opponents for Lincoln County schools.

“It’s a luxury (recruiting) we don’t have but you just have todeal with it,” said Kessler.

He said he would welcome the opportunity to play BrookhavenAcademy in basketball on a home-and-away basis. “It would be a hugegate for them and a huge gate for us, too.”

Wesson principal Ronald Greer coached Wesson football beforemoving strictly into administration. He recognizes the financialadvantages of playing schools, public and private, closer to home.But he has mixed feelings on the subject.

“There are some positives and negatives,” said Greer. “The factthat they are closer to home saves a lot. Then again, you don’twant to get in a recruiting battle.”

Copiah County school board members approved Wesson’s entry intothe private school competition. Greer said he and his staff willreevaluate the situation in the spring. “We are testing thewaters.”

Several members of the Brookhaven Academy Board of Trustees haveexpressed a positive interest in playing area public schools. Weknow most of the BA coaches would welcome the opportunity but thefinal OK rests with the board.

In the meantime, the price of oil continues to skyrocket. Forsure, public versus private would save a lot of travel expenses forarea schools. Athletic interest would skyrocket, too.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com