To Parents of Middle-School Student-Athletes: An Open Letter

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Many of you are facing an important decision.  Where do you enroll your son/daughter for High School?   You have spent countless hours in sweaty humid gyms, on blazing hot fields and  transporting your child to AAU or church league practices and games.  Your child wants to to play.  He/she is a good student and wants to pursue athletics at the scholastic level.  Athletics is an important part of your family’s life and, therefore, a factor in the high school decision-making process.  As a parent, there are some important questions you must ask.  The most obvious one is: Are there opportunities for your child to play?  Most Public League schools do not sponsor freshman and/or junior varsity teams.  Sports budgets in the School District of Philadelphia have been drastically cut in recent years.

Say, for example, your daughter plays soccer.  She has played in a youth league for several years.  She’s serious about soccer.  Over the past decade, Philadelphia’s Public League soccer programs have been cut to the point where there is little opportunity for participation and skill development.  Only six teams are listed on the JV schedule for the upcoming season. No Public League school has a freshmen girl’s soccer team. Most schools have subpar fields or share Department of Recreation fields. Some play games on the Super Sites, the turf all-sport fields that are located near Simon Gratz, Germantown, Southern, and Northeast high schools.  As a parent, do you take a chance with a Public League soccer program?  The same logic applies across all sports.  Baseball, tennis, crew, track & field, lacrosse, football and basketball players should carefully examine the athletic programs and leagues of their prospective schools.

The dynamics have changed since most parents were in school.  In many instances, the neighborhood public school alternative is simply unacceptable.  This is especially the case in basketball.  Historically speaking, parents of scholastic hoopsters in the greater Philadelphia region have been blessed for years.  Philadelphia’s Catholic and Public Leagues have consistently developed elite scholastic basketball players for nearly three-quarters of a century.

However, many of the traditional Public League powers (West Philadelphia, Overbrook, Southern, Ben Franklin, Gratz, etc.) have seen their once mighty basketball programs relegated to lower tier status as independent charter schools have become dominant.  Facing a $300 million budget deficit, the School District of Philadelphia has limited opportunities for student-athletes to participate in scholastic competition.  One can reasonably assume that athletic budgets will continue to suffer.  Moreover and more importantly, very few Public League Schools have  average SAT scores that meet NCAA freshman eligibility criteria for a student with a 2.5 gpa.

The plain and simple fact is that too many students attending Public League high schools are finding it difficult to meet NCAA eligibility criteria.  On the other hand, Catholic League alums are currently playing at schools such as Notre Dame (Steve Vasturia, SJ Prep), Wake Forest (Miles Overton, SJ Prep), Rider (Junior Fortunat, Roman), Towson (John Davis, Neumann-Gorretti), Wisconsin, Green-Bay (Lamin Fulton, Neumann-Gorretti) and many other Division 1 and 2 colleges.

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Current Catholic League seniors have committed to Miami University (Ja’Quan Newton, Neumann-Gorretti), Penn State (Shep Garner, Roman), Drexel (Rashann London, Roman), Campbell (Tony Toplyn and Troy Harper, Neuman Goretti) and Cornell (Pat Smith, Wood) among others.

Junior Fortunat pic

If participation on strong competitive teams in a very strong league with solid academic programs is the goal, then Philadelphia’s Catholic League should be your destination.  Currently, Archbishop Carroll’s Boy;s Basketball team is ranked 12th in the nation according to MaxPreps.  Roman Catholic, SJ Prep, Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood are among the top teams in Pennsylvania their respective class divisions.

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In football, the Philadelphia Catholic League produced the PIAA AAAA Champion SJ Prep Hawks.  SJ Prep was ranked #1 in Pennsylvania and #38 in the United States.

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For many families, sports is an important part of the educational process.  Research finds that in addition to improved physical health, sport plays a primarily positive role in youth development, including improved academic achievement, higher self-esteem and fewer behavioral problems.  Many parents have long known that many facets of playing sport—the discipline of training, learning teamwork, following the leadership of coaches and captains, learning to lose—provide lifelong skills for athletes.

For parents of middle school student-athletes in the Philadelphia region, the Catholic League provides the best combination of accessibility, academic accountability and athletic competition.

In terms of the ability to develop academically and athletically prepared student-athletes, Philadelphia’s Catholic League is the preeminent scholastic league in the region.

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