Benchwarming with Beebe: March 2017

Evan Beebe, Sports Editor

The other day, as I was perusing the Chicago Tribune’s sports section I came across a list of all Chicagoland area kids participating in the 2017 NCAA basketball tournament. Scanning through the list I came across.

Scottie Lindsey, Northwestern, Jr., G, Fenwick

Tom Planek, Providence, Jr., F, Fenwick

Michael Ballard, Wisconsin, Fr., G, Fenwick

Stuart Nezlek, Iowa State, Sr., C, Fenwick

Seeing four Fenwick players and zero OPRF alums on that list of 40 cut right through my orange and blue heart. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized you can’t compare the OPRF and Fenwick basketball programs.

As a private school Fenwick, has many advantages we are not fortunate enough to have here. Fenwick can take students from the city who don’t live in Oak Park or River Forest. They can essentially recruit athletes from the Chicagoland area by offering them playing time and exposure. Technically, they can’t offer scholarships, but they can offer “need-based financial aid” to these athletes.

A 2012 New York Times story chronicled this “recruitment.” Kids in seventh grade were receiving letters and calls from private schools in the area. Parents called the experience “flattering” but a little too much for kids that are only thirteen.

Much like college athletes, there is a recruitment process to bring in the best athletes, but instead of high schoolers being recruited, it’s middle schoolers.

I think Fenwick is actually one of the private schools going about this the right way. They bring in some great coaches, and give opportunities to kids who could use them.

Jordan Mrkvicka, a senior year at OPRF, spent two years at Fenwick, and was a member of the Friars volleyball team. During her two years at Fenwick Mrkvicka never felt there was any preference towards standout athletes. “Much like here we would have football and basketball players in our classes, but I never felt they were treated differently.” she said.

But some schools aren’t as good as Fenwick.

For example, former NFL and MLB standout Deion Sanders helped create the charter school Prime Prep Academy in Texas. It was designed as a school that would bring in the best athletes in Texas and become a powerhouse. In the school’s first year they had tremendous success, and recruited future NBA lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay.  ESPN even televised some of their games. However, they fell behind academically and Sanders had to use his celebrity status to stay in favor with the Texas Board of Education and keep the school running.  There have even been reports of teachers handing out grades to keep kids eligible.

Prime Prep isn’t the only of these prep schools that has popped up in the past couple of years. Some, such as a Hillcrest Prep in Arizona, aren’t even real schools. They have a basketball team that wears the name on the jersey, but no actual building. The students take classes online and spend most of their time on the court. It’s like school is the extra-curricular, not the academics.

Private schools have to realize 99.99% of these kids are not going to make a living off their sport, and making sure they have options after they’re done playing. These schools are beneficial for one or two individuals a year, but not for the rest.

Prime Prep and Hillcrest Prep are obviously extreme cases, and I’m in no way comparing them to Fenwick. These schools are made up of just athletes, while a school like Fenwick brings in an complete student body. In fact, I think Fenwick is doing the right thing providing a lot of kids who can’t afford private school, an opportunity to go to one. I just don’t like knowing these fourteen year old kids are being used for their ability, and that other  schools probably could care less about how they do in the classroom. High school are four years of growth and learning, I don’t believe kids should be going into their high school experience with this pressure to become some kind of star athlete.