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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

California boys' basketball championships highlight disparities between private and public schools

Seventeen of the 20 teams are from private schools. Public schools continue to be at a disadvantage, and with budget cuts looming, the road to Sacramento keeps getting harder, Eric Sondheimer writes.

March 20, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Mater Dei's Xavier Johnson, left, battles Corona Centenennial's Dominique Dunning for the ball in the first quarter of the Southern Section 1AA championship semifinal at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Mater Dei's Xavier Johnson, left, battles Corona Centenennial's… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

There are so many private schools traveling to Sacramento for the state basketball championships that the charter bus companies might have to call in reinforcements to make sure they have enough luxury vehicles with air conditioning, DVDs and leather seats.

Seventeen of the 20 teams in the state championship games Friday and Saturday at Power Balance Pavilion are from private schools. It seems as if the pope has made an edict for Catholics to become good in basketball.

How else to explain St. Bernard, Mater Dei, St. Joseph Notre Dame, Bishop O'Dowd, St. Mary's, Archbishop Mitty, St. Joseph and De La Salle all playing for state titles?

This is going to be a weekend for debate about the growing disparity between public and private schools, especially if none of the three public schools left in the competition — Berkeley, Fontana Summit and Rialto — find a way to win a title. All three are likely underdogs in their respective title games, which could lead to a first: private schools have never won all 10 state championships.

Usually, the discussion in Sacramento centers on who's better, Southern California or Northern California. Not this time.

Marie Ishida, the executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, meets with reporters Saturday, and she might want to do some thinking about the ramifications of having 17 private schools and only three public schools reach the championship games.

I'm not in favor of the nuclear option for high school sports — having separate playoffs for private and public schools. But what has happened is no fluke. It's clear public schools continue to be at a disadvantage, and with budget cuts looming, the road to Sacramento keeps getting harder and harder.

Debating who recruits more — private or public — isn't going to solve the problem. Both recruit. But private schools have no attendance boundaries and their emphasis on academics and athletics is swaying parents.

That doesn't mean it's time for public schools to wave the white flag of surrender.

La Cañada, a team of neighborhood kids, fought valiantly and came up one game short, losing to La Verne Lutheran in Saturday's Division III regional boys' final. To see so many students and community members come out to support the team provides a glimmer of hope.

"We brought a whole community to their feet," La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman said.

Afterward, La Cañada guard Mason Holle insisted there's no need to separate private and public schools.

"If you really want it, you can beat these teams," Holle said.

Corona Centennial beat Mater Dei. It just didn't happen Saturday. It took place during the Southern Section playoffs, and with expanded 16-team regional brackets, teams that win a section championship are no longer a sure bet to make it to Sacramento.

All five Southern California regional champions in the boys' playoffs — Mater Dei, Summit, La Verne Lutheran, Los Angeles Windward and Playa del Rey St. Bernard — lost in the Southern Section playoffs. They took advantage of a second chance, regrouped and recommitted.

Public schools have that same opportunity, but it's not going to be easy trying to break the private-school juggernaut.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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