The Prized Recruits of Prep School Sports

Letters, texts and phone calls. Promises of championships. Offers of big-money scholarships. Another day in the college sports recruiting wars? No, it’s what local kids as young as 10 are being deluged with—from some of Philadelphia’s most elite private high schools

PAUL THOUGHT THE HANDWRITTEN recruiting letters from the football coach were pretty cool. The coach — whose team plays in the Inter-Academic League, comprised of some of Philadelphia’s most prestigious private high schools — invited Paul to stand on the sidelines at games. He included his cell phone number, talked about building a championship program, and boasted of the school’s facilities.

Paul was in fifth grade.

A talented fullback and linebacker who attends a public middle school in Montgomery County, Paul — who asked that his real name not be used in order to avoid antagonizing the schools recruiting him — has only become more popular in the ensuing years as his talent blossomed. Now in eighth grade, he’s a target of all six Inter-Ac schools — Chestnut Hill Academy, Episcopal Academy, Germantown Academy, The Haverford School, Malvern Prep and Penn Charter — and several members of the 18-school Philadelphia Catholic League. Unlike other kids interested in such schools, Paul isn’t worried about having his application accepted. His grades are strong, but his real admission ticket is his football talent.

“I like it,” he says of the attention one frosty winter afternoon while perched upon a wing chair in the TV room of his family’s spacious, well-appointed home. “I never thought I would like having high-school coaches calling me.”

His father, Jack (also not his real name), a former college football player who runs his own business, is enjoying the process as well — even more than his son. Jack receives calls, texts and e-mails daily from an array of area coaches, all pitching their programs and schools — in that order — and he relishes the chance to relate the details. Despite the sterling academic reputations of the schools wooing Paul, their primary message is athletic. The Catholic schools speak of playing for a state championship in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA). Their Inter-Ac counterparts, which don’t compete for state titles, instead sell a unique, Ivy League-style sports experience, heavy on ancient rivalries, and emphasize their multimillion-dollar facilities.

“This,” Jack says, “is like what I went through when I was being recruited for college.”

Paul is by nature a quiet young man, which makes him a good target for sales pitches from loquacious coaches. As he tells his story — somewhat uncomfortably, perhaps because his father has made him dress up for the occasion — it’s clear he has been surprised by the attention. “I always thought I would go to [the public high school]; then all these schools started calling,” he says. “It’s nice.” But somewhat wearing. While his father talks to coaches, Paul would rather end the process, so he can “know where I’m going to high school.”

It will be a couple months before that happens. In the meantime, the onslaught continues. One Catholic League coach sent an e-mail that read, “Come here, and we’ll win a state title together.” Paul has settled on a finalist from each league. He likes the Catholic school’s recent success on the gridiron and the fact that the homework load would be lighter than at the Inter-Ac school. Jack prefers the prep school but isn’t delighted by the annual $25,000-plus price tag. Paul’s mother isn’t entirely thrilled with the Catholic school, because the family isn’t Catholic. The physical plant isn’t too modern, either. “She’s upset they don’t have central air-conditioning,” Jack says.

It figures to be an interesting decision for Paul and his family as they find themselves immersed in Philadelphia’s new high-school sports world, in which the idyllic concept of extracurricular athletic fun has been replaced with a business model built on the potential of 14-year-olds like Paul.

“I thought I was savvy,” Jack says with a laugh. “But I had no idea they were recruiting like this.”

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  • jim

    While Catholic Schools cannot initiate contact with a student who does attend their officcial feeder school, once a student makes contact with a high school, that school is allowed to contact them…therefore prospective students attend “Open Houses” and ask to receive information…once again the public schools who have the advantage of unlimited tax payer funding (funny how thats never listed as an advantage) are portrayed as the victims…while tax-saving tuition based schools are deemed rule breakers…you guys gotta give up the envy

  • Josh

    Great job, great sports article well worth the read. It’s ashame how competitive high school sports has become. Middle Schoolers are definitely victim now.

  • jerry

    As a coach competing in the PIAA, I am always discouraged when I see evidence of cheating. The PIAA clearly defines recruiting as a violation. Anyone who does it is breaking the rules. In my book, breaking the rules is cheating. If a PIAA coach recruits, they are cheating. Its really that simple. They are a cheater! They know it, their players and parents know it, their athletic director and principal know it, everyone knows it, including the PIAA! There is no way of totally stopping it, but you can help deter cheating/recruiting by going to the PIAA website and filing a report. Anyone(let’s emphasize ANYONE), can file a report. Dont expect any monumental outcomes, just take pride in knowing that you are doing right by the thousands of coaches across the state that run their interscholastic programs with honesty and integrity. Coaches who recruit are coaches who cant coach very well and desperately need the talent to make up for their shortcomings. Why else would they recruit?

  • Mike

    Many people have said this for years, but it has fallen on deaf ears. It’s a real shame and it has ruined the game for area schools.

  • Mike

    Many people have said this for years, but it has fallen on deaf ears. It’s a real shame and it has ruined the game for area schools.

  • Bill

    Jim Murray AD at the Prep give me a break you and your Basketball coach walk around and act like your above everyone else you have been cheating for years just like everyone else but talk bad about coaches “Mile Overton”How did he end up at the prep you had kids on the team caught cheating on exams still on the team OH! They can do the work BS

  • Gil

    This is a hit piece written by someone with an agenda (an agenda he misrepresented in our one conversation) and my name should not have been used in the distorted way it has been used. This article makes it sound like I did some of the things associated with the anonymous family and it makes it sound like we only had success at the Prep because of recruiting. If it was just recruiting, why weren’t they successful before I got their. They had the same administration and the same goals. There was no “mandate” when I took over, merely a recognition that the whole Prep community had to become involved in attracting students. As I said to the writer, every Catholic school student is recruited and most, at least at Prep, are involved in activities. Further, the number of students the Prep got from NJ has been the same on a percentage basis since I went to the Prep. Finally, use of the “process” is misleading. As I mentioned to the writer, generally all one did was interact with young men and their families that already had an interest in the Prep. The writer ignored everything I told him that…

  • Drew

    To the person who ignorantly singles out Jim Murray, the Athletic Director at St. Joseph’s Prep, you obviously are not an alumnus of this prestigious institution. If you were, you could never have posted a comment with so many grammatical errors and so little substance.

  • Christine

    I will back Coach Gil Brooks’ approached 100% during his tenure at the Prep. When my son was accepted to the Prep, Coach Brooks hardly knew his name and had never pursued him at all. But my son, along with his best friend, wanted to attend the school because of the strong academics and nationally ranked football program. He enjoyed a great four years and was a captain his senior year, as was his best friend. The recruiting subject is blown way out of proportion, Coach Brooks didn’t do anything that any other football Coach wasn’t doing. The Prep is a great academic institution that almost all alums are proud of, it is a shame that so many people have a poor view of the football program… but with success comes scrutiny.

  • Jim

    Most if not all the kids on PCL teams come from CYO programs, that’s the basis. They were never headed to a public school in the first place, the idea that these kids were somehow stolen from the local public school is simply wrong. Public schools have advantages of their own, ie NO TUITION, no religion classes, etc.

  • Mary

    There are a few things that have been glossed over in this article. All students receiving financial aid in non-public schools have to fill out an application for aid. I know that bc we have been through the process. A coach doesn’t just say “We will pay your tuition.” It’s absurd to suggest that’s what happens. Also, the aid that one does receive comes from endowments or private donations. No taxpayers money goes to a student.Seems that benefits the public school system-more tax money per student. It’s interesting how the author didn’t focus on the Lasalle and Malvern players who transferred to public schools. Just the public to private. Public schools like to win a lot, too.Open your eyes to the whole picture. You will sound more credible.

  • Todd

    Penn Charter’s boosters have been paying for athletes tuition for decades. And they’re notorious for dropping admission standards to accept stud athletes. It’s driving their alumni crazy that Germantown Academy has surpassed them in virtually every sport (football being the only exception).

  • Jim

    It’s odd that the Prep has let LaSalle blow bast them in every sport. Is there any sport that LaSalle doesn’t win the Catholic League championship in? Meanwhile, Penn Charter’s athletic program is running on fumes. Can’t remember the last time they won anything significant.

  • Rick

    Interesting.

  • http://for-2012-live-and-online.html Jermaine Coachman

    Viewing the ncaa games live online should be simpler for us diehards. You have a alternate method?