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

The money can come from a variety of sources. Penn Charter offers a worthy Little Quakers applicant the full-tuition Fox Scholarship, which goes only to football players and is endowed by a family whose Philly roots date back to William Penn’s time. Germantown Academy has specific athletic funds that help bring athletes to campus, too. Friends schools can offer more than the determined need figures, and at ANC, which has a huge endowment courtesy of the Pitcairn and Asplundh families, every student, regardless of financial standing, receives benefits from that pool. Though all the schools insist the money distributed is based entirely on need, well-off prospects do indeed receive scholarship offers based on athletic talent alone.

Even with the aid and what parents actually can pay, there are sometimes shortfalls. For particularly valued athletes, other avenues exist — including tuition being paid by alumni, other parents or even a coach’s acquaintances.

“I call [the benefactors] ‘godfathers,’” longtime Prep athletic director Jim Murray says. “I have no problem with godfathers. It doesn’t matter whether Aunt Sally, Uncle Henry or Joe Nice Guy is paying a guy’s tuition. It’s being paid.”

IN MID-FEBRUARY, Friends Central and ANC met at Haverford College to decide the league title before a raucous crowd. As the athletes — almost all of whom are African-Americans from the city — played a highly entertaining game, their fellow students — almost entirely white — cheered them on. It was an interesting juxtaposition.

But was it wrong? Not unless you consider giving kids the chance to escape treacherous neighborhoods and rotten Philadelphia high schools a bad thing. While the schools benefit from their teams’ exploits, the players get an opportunity to experience a world they never would have without their talent. “If you get a child who has the ability to do the work and can keep him in this environment 24/7, he’ll be stimulated there and will be successful,” LaMont Peterson says.

That said, not all schools’ motives are pure or their methods aboveboard. While Inter-Ac and Friends Schools League institutions, which are not part of the PIAA, are free to recruit students from wherever they wish, schools that are part of the PIAA — including those in the Catholic League — operate under strict restrictions. Under the guidelines, member schools may only contact students at “feeder” grade schools — those that provide 25 percent or more of the respective high school’s enrollment. But with increased competition for players, some Catholic school coaches have begun going beyond their traditional feeder schools (parish grade schools) and targeting students at nearby public middle schools — a direct violation of the rules.

“The only person who can contact [a public-middle-school student] is a representative from the [public] high school in his school district,” says PIAA board president Rod Stone, the principal at Central Bucks South High School.

So, as Catholic League schools were e-mailing and calling Paul, the young football star from Montgomery County, they were violating PIAA rules.

As you might imagine, the public schools aren’t too happy about having their best players poached. Ray Gionta coached football at St. John Neumann (long before it merged with St. Maria Goretti), and he knows the Catholic League. For the past eight years, he has been head coach at Marple-Newtown and has had to defend his district’s turf against several parochial and independent schools. “Losing one or two kids a year from our district will hurt our program,” Gionta says. “I’m trying to protect our kids from being stolen.”

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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?