For the third time in history, Ohio High School Athletic Association principals will vote on separating tournaments for public and private schools.
The OHSAA received a petition last week for a referendum item on the separation, and pending verification by the OHSAA, the item will be on the list of bylaw changes and constitutional amendments annually voted on by member principals in May.
"The intent of the petition is to create competitive balance and fairness for a majority of the student/athletes throughout Ohio," said Wooster Triway Superintendent Dave Rice. "It is our belief separate tournaments are the only true structure to eliminate the obvious discrepancy in competitive balance."
Rice said the petition was circulated after principals twice voted down a competitive balance formula proposed by an OHSAA committee that modified divisional assignments for team sports.
The committee, which included Rice, was formed after a group of superintendents from Wayne County schools presented poll results to the OHSAA that indicated a competitive imbalance was present in Ohio high school sports. Private schools, which represent less than 20 percent of schools in Ohio, have won a disproportionate amount of state championships.
Last weekend in Stark County, half of the six state football championships were won by private schools: Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in Division III beat Bellevue, Toledo Central Catholic beat Trotwood Madison in Division II and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller beat Whitmer in Division I.
Currently, divisions are assigned based strictly on enrollment. The proposals, which OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried said were the association's attempt to address the competitive imbalance issue, suggested using formulas. Those formulas took into account recent success in state tournaments, socioeconomic factors as determined by the number of students receiving a free lunch and whether or not a private school had defined boundaries or a public school had open enrollment to adjacent districts.
After principals rejected the measure for the first time in 2011 by a vote of 332 to 303, Rice sent a letter to the OHSAA asking for a vote on splitting tournaments for public and private schools, as is done in New Jersey, Texas and Florida. Similar efforts were resoundingly defeated in Ohio in 1978 and 1993.
The OHSAA instead modified the competitive balance formula and placed it again on the May ballot. It was defeated again, 339-301. At that point, OHSAA Commissioner Dan Ross said the schools had spoken and the OHSAA wouldn't address the issue again in the near future.
Rice hopes the OHSAA will remain neutral, but Stried said the OHSAA opposes separating tournaments.
"We have been vocal about that in the months leading up to this moment and we'll be even more vocal about it in the months leading up to the vote," Stried said. "We will utilize press releases, our website, social media and the annual referendum explanation meetings in April to explain the ramifications of what could happen if that item passes."
Fremont Ross principal Jose Hernandez, who recently completed a term on the board of control, said separating private and public tournaments could lead to "dire consequences."
"It's almost like kicking the parochial schools out of the OHSAA," he said. "What's to stop them from banding together and having their own tournament? It has so many drawbacks to it."