Public schools get their wish

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015

In 2013, a group of public school coaches and administrators in Northeast Mississippi got together and tried to expel the state’s private and parochial schools from the Mississippi High School Activities Association.

They finally got their wish.

By pushing for a ban on out-of-state students — many of whom have attended parochial schools since grade school — the faction up north forced the Diocese of Jackson to trigger the nuclear option of leaving the MHSAA for the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools. The decision was made Tuesday night and is effective immediately for St. Aloysius and Greenville-St. Joseph.

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The move gives everyone what they want.

The Catholic schools can keep their out-of-state players with the looser guidelines of the multi-state MAIS, and all of their students can participate in athletics and other activities.

The other group? They get to go back to the way things used to be, when they ruled over Class 1A and those pesky private schools stayed in their lane.

For years the Catholic schools weren’t championship contenders in a lot of sports. At least not the ones that matter. They won in things like golf, tennis and swimming, which a lot of small public schools don’t offer or don’t have the depth to compete in on a team level.

Then, in the late 2000s, Tupelo Christian Prep joined the MHSAA with a total enrollment of about 115 students and a pretty good baseball team. It won its division and grumbling about recruiting and unfair advantages started to surface. Not long after that, St. Al, Cathedral and Greenville-St. Joe all won Class 1A championships.

Things started to come to a head in the last couple of years when St. Al and Cathedral became championship contenders in football. Now the public schools were getting hit where it hurts. How could schools that haven’t been good for 30 years ever turn things around? They must be recruiting!

At least in St. Al’s case, if coaches were recruiting then they have a remarkable eye for talent. Most of the key players from back-to-back runs to the Class 1A semifinals had been enrolled since grade school. Cathedral had a few recent transfers from MAIS member Trinity Episcopal, which has had its own issues, but its players had still been in or around Natchez for years.

Seeing Cathedral and St. Al play for last year’s Class 1A title, and Cathedral winning with a quarterback who happens to live in Louisiana but is probably closer to campus than a lot of public school students in rural Mississippi, was the last straw. The other Class 1A schools decided to take back their association a piece at a time.

When the move to expel the private schools didn’t work, they went with the non-resident ban that had been on the books for years but never enforced. If that didn’t work, a group of schools from South Mississippi had a plan already in the pipeline to introduce a rule counting each private school student as 1.5 students for classification purposes. The effect would have been to bump all of the private and parochial schools up a classification.

One way or another, the state’s small public schools were going to eliminate or marginalize the competitive threat from the private schools. If you can’t beat them, destroy them.

The Catholic schools were left with a host of unpalatable options. They could sue, and probably lose. They could stay the course and alienate their own families while remaining in an organization whose membership seems to be growing increasingly hostile toward them. Or they could sever a decades-long relationship, forge a new path and move to the MAIS, where all of their students can participate in all of the activities they offer.

Everybody can go their separate ways hopefully, with not a lot of animosity on either side.

Ernest Bowker is a sports writer. He can be reached at 601-619-7120, or via email at


About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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