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

IT’S PUSHING 9 P.M. on a recent night, and Horace Spencer Jr. is looking for relief. He and his eighth-grade son, Horace III — a 6-foot-8, 200-pound prodigy who this year is one of the region’s most prized basketball recruits — have just returned to their home in Warminster after the younger Spencer’s practice. All day long Horace Jr. has been fielding calls and e-mails on behalf of his son.

“It’s very intense,” he says. “I have four schools that are ringing my phone every day. It’s a lot. It can overwhelm me.”

Roman Catholic, Archbishop Wood and La Salle are among the schools that have flooded the Spencers with attention. “Most of them are pushing basketball,” Horace Jr. says. “I’m interested in academics.”

Coaches aren’t the only people pestering the Spencers. Parents of other players call him, trying to find out where Horace III will go so they can send their children to that school, too. Horace Jr. suspects some of the parents are being put up to it by the coaches. Since Horace III is not allowed to have a cell phone — “I don’t want coaches putting ideas in his head,” his father says — coaches have other players ask him where he’ll go.

So what does it take for a school to land a player with the potential of Horace III? The word used most to describe whether a school is interested in creating a successful publicity-grabbing program is “commitment.” That term has many meanings but ultimately characterizes what a school is willing to do to win, from doling out more financial aid to admitting students who might not be as academically strong as other applicants.

“If a school wants to be good in athletics, they’re going to be good,” says Chris McNesby, basketball coach at Roman Catholic, a perennial Philadelphia hoops powerhouse. “It’s very simple. If you turn on the faucet and get kids in school for free, you’ll win.”

Getting those kids begins with identifying and generating interest among top athletes. That requires developing contacts among grade-school and community coaches, having a keen eye for talent, and dazzling kids with some good old-fashioned salesmanship. “I’m doing more of going out and selling the school,” ANC’s Givens says. “If I can get into a living room and talk to kids about coming to ANC, I’m going to have success getting the kid to come to our school.

“There aren’t too many schools in the [national basketball] top 25 with the academics we have.”

To get top prospects, Givens and other coaches must navigate the treacherous waters of Philadelphia’s Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit — a primarily spring and summer basketball league that attracts the region’s elite talent. One of ANC’s top players this season, 6-foot-9 forward Rakeem Christmas, who will play at Syracuse next year, joined the Lions from North Catholic in large part because two AAU teammates — Savon Lloyd-Goodman and Malcolm Gilbert — had already joined up with Givens. “I knew Savon and Malcolm from AAU, and ANC seemed like a comfortable spot in a nice, little town,” Christmas says.

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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?