Chris Masse on basketball: Boundary vs. non-boundary issue one worth fighting for

We live in a world where our government is supposed to be by the people and for the people.

And yet so many of our state representatives and senators repeatedly ignore a glaring problem that grows worse every year. As the broken PIAA system that creates two sets of unfair rules for non-boundary and boundary schools leaves so many boundary students in tears every year, our state government — minus representative Scott Conklin and Senator Gene Yaw — ignore the issue.

Well, we the people have to change that. Make all your congressmen stand up. Remind them there are fights worth fighting and this is one. Actually, it has been one worth fighting for decades, but they have stood on the sidelines and let one side stampede the other.

Conklin and Yaw both deserve praise, however, for their actions. Conklin introduced legislation in the House last month and Yaw will do the same next week in the Senate calling for separate tournaments for the non-boundary schools and tradtional boundary schools.

Yaw said in his newsletter Friday: “I will be introducing legislation separating sports playoffs between traditional public schools (boundary schools) and private, parochial and charter schools (non-boundary schools). Under my legislation, boundary schools are defined as school districts which are governed by a board of school directors duly elected pursuant to the Public School Code of 1949 and the Pennsylvania Election Code.

“This change addresses the competitive imbalance and unfairness which results from the ability of non-boundary schools to enroll students from anywhere in the state as well as from out of state. Boundary schools, on the other hand, are limited to students within the municipal boundaries of the school district.

“While the PIAA has been aware of the inequities in its current system and undertaken some attempts to put fairness into its competition and playoffs systems, more needs to be done immediately.”

First a quick refresher course, building off Yaw’s statement. When a law was passed in 1972 that brought the private (non-boundary) schools in with the boundary schools (true publics), the chaos began. From that moment, the non-boundaries had a huge advantage. There was no limit to where these schools could and can enroll students. The world is these schools’ oyster. Meanwhile, the boundary schools can feature athletes only from their own school district. Worse yet, some of the behemoths that can bring in players from all around the country can still compete in small classifications against schools that sometimes might struggle fielding both varsity and JV teams.

Look at the high school landscape throughout the 2000s and one sees how big an advantage this creates for non-boundary schools. Just look at high school basketball this season. In the six boys tournaments, 17 of the 24 teams left on the East side of the bracket are non-boundary schools. That is par for the course these days.

What has happened, especially over the last 15 years, is non-boundaries have been able to assemble glorified all-star teams in various sports, especially in basketball. The Neumann-Gorettis, Imhoteps, Constitutions, St. Joe’s Preps, Pittsburgh Central Catholics and Archbishop Woods of the world are filled with Division I athletes and look like college teams when they take the courts and fields.

Of course, a major issue is students transferring for purely athletic reasons. This happens with boundary schools as well, although the PIAA seems to selectively enforce it at those schools much more, something to which Penn State graduate Zain Retherford can attest. Fixing that problem would go a long way in curing the problem overall, but there is really no way that it can be enforced at the non-boundary schools because the students can always say they are attending for the academics. So many are not, but proving that is near impossible when it comes to private and charter schools.

Even if somehow that problem was fixed the bottom line remains you cannot have a fair system when there are two separate sets of rules. Some of have said make the non-boundary schools play in the classification that reflects the geographic region from which it pulls its students, which would make them all large school teams. That, though, punishes the Class 5A and 6A boundary schools who already are fighting their own battles.

The best solution is separating the boundaries and non-boundaries come state tournament time. Let them play each other as much as they want during the regular season, but when it comes to states, they must compete against teams playing by only the same rules. Another option is creating an open division like California has and place 16 of the state’s most dominant programs, regardless of boundary issues and let them go at it, opening opportunities for more boundary schools in the other classifications.

Picking those teams, however, could be a chore. It would lead to ample complaints and perennial non-boundary powerhouses likely would still remain in the other classes. That is why separation appears the only option. Conklin started this last month in the House and Yaw is taking up the fight in the Senate.

Now it is time for their colleagues to step up, joing them and fix this wrong. The PIAA will continue hiding behind the antiquated 1972 rule that a congressman said last year could be worked around. The PIAA is useless in this fight. All it does is try applying band-aids to what have been gaping wounds. It can create 78 classes, try tightening transfer rules and it still will not address the inherent flaw.

Only the state government can fix the issue. It has the power and it is time to utilize it. Now, I’ve heard some say, “well, they have bigger things to worry about.” Spare me. Go tell all those heartbroken athletes that have lost to all-star teams over the years that this is not a battle worth undertaking. Go tell them that their sacrifices, their dedication, their countless hours spent working toward the ultimate goal do not matter. Go tell them that even though you know that so many times all that work is in vain when the odds are stacked against them that rectifying this problem does not matter.

This cannot go on any longer. The boundary schools deserve better. They deserve a system that gives them the same chances all have at winning state championships and attaining postseason glory. They deserve it now.

So it is up to us. Contact your local representative, your local senator and demand change. Conklin and Yaw are trail blazers and tell their colleagues that the time is now for the immediate change they propose.

Here are your District 4 representatives and their contact information:

• Garth Everett (geverett@pahousegop.com)

• Jeff Wheeland (JWheeland@pahousegop.com)

• Clint Owlett (570-724-1390)

• Tina Pickett (tpickett@pahousegop.com)

• Kurt Masser (570 648-8017)

• David Millard (dmillard@pahousegop.com)

• Lynda Schlegel Culver (570-286-5885)

• Fred Keller (570-837-0052).

Your other senator is John Gordner (570-784-3464).

Flood their emails, their voicemails and their ears. Spread the word throughout the state, too. Tell them to stand up, speak out and tear down this unfair wall of inequality.

Tell these people who are supposed to be public servants to stop being cowards and turning a blind eye to a glaring problem. Remind them them that the vast majority of schools they represent are boundary schools. Remind them that they are supposed to fight for the people and that the vast majority of student-athletes they represent are boundary-school student-athletes.

Remind them that discrimination is wrong. And this is the ironic part. Every time someone like Conklin and Yaw does try fighting the system, someone representing the non-boundary schools that exploit this unfair system says there cannot be separation because it would be discriminatory. Wrong.

The discrimination is not fixing the system. The discrimination is making the majority of the students suffer under laws that punish them and help others. There is nothing discriminatory about making teams play in tournaments that feature the same rules. They still compete for state championships, the groups just do it against teams playing by the same rules. Discrimination stops when everything becomes equal.

This problem is easily solved but only the state government can do it. So please, congressman, congresswomen and senators follow the lead of Conklin and Yaw.

Put your hand on your chest and feel around. Do you feel it? That’s your heart. Now, show you all have one.

The people are fed up. All we are asking is that you do the right thing.

Are you listening?

Chris Masse may be reached by email at cmasse@sungazette.com.

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