Recruiting—a capital idea

The least surprised people reading this morning’s Courant must certainly be high school coaches from public schools. Others may be shocked to learn that Hartford’s Capital Prep made special efforts to recruit athletes, but the tendency of private schools to engage in such activity is well known. I can’t say for certain if I’ve ever lost a tennis player to a private or parochial school, but over the years my players have often evinced shock to learn that a team housed in a given community included players from all over the state.

It’s something coaches live with. Occasionally I complain, but not very loudly anymore. Some of these “fortunate” coaches are friends of mine and are simply dealing with the talent they have been provided. But the Capital Prep exposé is particularly odious given the school’s expressed goal of providing an equal chance at alternative opportunities for all interested students. The numbers would always be limited, of course, but the chances were supposed to be equal. They weren’t.

I hadn’t realized until this morning that Capital Prep won four consecutive state championships in girls basketball from 2013 to 2016, amassing ninety consecutive victories. Maybe in the era of Geno Auriemma a number like that seems reasonable, but Auriemma spends half the year recruiting in order to earn his $14 million (recent contract extension). Public high school coaches cannot recruit—cannot even hint at recruiting. For a team to be dominant in a sport may reflect the community or a particularly talented coaching staff, but ninety consecutive wins speaks to more than good luck and good coaching; instead it bypasses rebuilding in favor of restocking from a seemingly endless pool. In 2013 Capital Prep won four tournament games by a combined score of 359 to 139, including a 100-27 rout.

(Ironically, Capital Prep’s win streak came to an end last year at the hands of Holy Cross of Waterbury.)

I’m not claiming that Capital Prep or other magnet schools don’t provide a sound education or an atmosphere that promotes learning, but unlike charter schools, they sometimes avoid oversight and thrive on self-promotion. Openly lying about their fairness policy has compounded the scandal.

Today my girls tennis team plays a Hartford school. Coaching that team is a man I have known for nearly a decade—a dedicated educator whose devotion to that team—to education in general—is unquestioned. Despite these qualities anybody would seek in a coach, it is unlikely he will win a match this season—his talent pool has been sucked away by the myriad of charter and magnet schools in the capital region. If he can find a dozen girls to constitute a team, he feels fortunate.

I’ve always said that high school sports represent the last bastion of amateurism—before the one-and-done allure of college and the obscene salaries of the pros. The happenstance of melding a team that comprises athletes from all over a given community has always been one of the joys of coaching, but with an Education Secretary enamored of private, charter, and magnet schools, those joys may not be around much longer.

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