The Locker Room
By Dan Callahan
First of all, I have nothing against Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, or its connection with Liberty University. I take no issue with its stated mission, and I have absolutely no objection to a family that desires a Christian-based education for its children. I’ll not spend the time to write one word of objection to that because I do not object to it at all.
However, that is not the issue that now must be faced for high school athletics in Virginia, and the issue I address today. I don’t agree with it. In fact, no less than 90 percent of all public high schools in this state don’t agree with it, and that’s likely an understatement.
Liberty Christian Academy was born under the direction of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and his vision. And he no doubt felt it would benefit the continued progress of Liberty University, and be a quality educational opportunity with the social environment desired by Christian-based families. Again, no problem here. Go for it.
But the desire was to be different, in many ways better, not the same, separate from all the rest. Well, if you are different, you are different, and that should include all aspects. If you do not wish to involve yourself in public education and object to its guidelines and beliefs fine, again I understand and take no issue, however, if you wish to be separate from all others, then be separate in all aspects. You should not be able to pick and choose. In short, if you desire to educate your kids on a select campus, away from an environment you do not agree with, then why put yourself back in that environment athletically? It’s totally inconsistent, and it smacks of getting your cake and eating it too.
How did it happen? It has been under discussion and litigation has been possible for a number of years, possibly since 2006. This time the issue became very serious. LCA says it was losing considerable ticket sales and considerable revenue because public schools would not play them and the Virginia High School League would not accept them as a member. It also hurt them in football broadcast agreements and sponsorships. Is some of that a little bit of hooey? Possibly. LCA has seven home games this fall. There was also discussions of travel expense. I don’t want to hear about that. If the VHSL would not help Pulaski County with the most extensive travel schedule athletically in the history of this state, why should it have to be concerned about LCA?
But it was the third formal request, and things were getting very serious. We’re talking dollar bill serious. The executive committee of the VHSL met one day and immediately called for an entire membership meeting the next day. VHSL attorneys were present. New York legal firm Winston & Strawn was pushing hard for LCA. A jury trial had been set for October 19. Legal fees were going to be astronomical. In short, Liberty Christian Academy had more money to fight the issue, or more access to money, than the VHSL. But what would have happened if the VHSL had won the case, still didn’t have enough money to pay the bill, and had the VHSL lost the battle in court, it would have been a financial disaster, and the very existence of the VHSL would have been in serious doubt. It should be noted that Virginia now becomes the 48th of 50 states to include private schools with public schools, so history was also not in favor of the VHSL.
The vote passed easily. It was not a happy vote. But the membership felt it was a necessary one. The VHSL could not financially afford to fight the battle, even if it thought it might win. The VHSL has a substantial insurance policy to protect against such things, but as substantial as it is, still not nearly enough. VHSL membership schools would have been forced to help pay for the legal battle. Does Pulaski County and all other public high schools have an extra 50 grand laying around? No, they don’t. We’re not talking about bags of money here, but sacks. Liberty Christian Academy is now an official member of the VHSL because of it.
The VHSL has designated Lynchburg City as LCA’s enrollment zone. Does anybody really believe that E.C. Glass or Heritage would be pleased with that? Most area students at LCA come from the Forest and Brookville areas, and those schools are outside the LCA attendance zone designated by the VHSL, so what happens? We’ll get to that shortly.
The lingo is that Liberty Christian Academy will abide by VHSL rules. That’s also a bit of hooey. Who’s the monitor? But the VHSL states, and LCA agrees that since it is a non-boarding private school it must meet all VHSL eligibility standards.
But if the designated enrollment area is Lynchburg City and LCA gets few of their students from urban Lynchburg, and Jefferson-Forest and Brookville High Schools are no longer eligible to play at LCA, where do the student-athletes come from?
First of all, if families want to send their children to LCA they know it before the high school years, so if a youngster from the Forest or Brookville areas transfer while they are middle school age, they are good to go. Even if a kid waits until he’s a 9th grader and VHSL rules take effect, all he has to do is sit out one year of varsity competition, but how many freshmen play varsity? There’s no impact to that ruling.
But there are other outlets for student enrollment as well that are much different from VHSL public schools. If a student from Tazewell wishes to transfer to Pulaski County, there must be a corresponding change of residence for the family or guardian, and for state schools that is the same guideline LCA must adhere to, however, VHSL transfer rules do not apply to LCA when a student transferring is from another private school not a member of the VHSL. This also includes “home schoolers” who are still not allowed to play at VHSL public schools. It also includes out of state transfers. So no, it’s not the same. It’s not the same at all.
“The starting tailback for LCA could be somebody from Indiana.”
LCA is an immediate member. Football schedules for the next two-year cycle are already in place and those will not be changed. But LCA is also a member of 4A West, and that’s Pulaski County’s region. They are immediately eligible for the playoffs, so how is its schedule going to be graded? How can that situation be anything but uncertain? Nobody knows much of anything about the people LCA plays. It also means that 4A West now has 29 schools while 4A East has only 24. That’s five more schools and that makes it much more difficult for 4A West teams to qualify for the playoffs.
If everything was exactly like VHSL public schools I would have no concerns, but regardless of all the political mish mash you are going to hear, things are absolutely not the same. How much impact will it have? Time will tell, but I am compelled to mention as I have numerous times over the past three or four years, that private school power across the country is increasing at a rapid rate, and the football states of Ohio, California, Florida and others are ruled by private schools. All private schools are not just religiously based, some are athletically oriented, some academically oriented, and some are even foreign related. Is LCA the last private school to join the VHSL? No. There will be more now that the door is open and the one school with the financial resources has done the work. How many? I don’t know, but there are prominent private schools who excel athletically in a variety of locales across Virginia.
Millions of people across the country do not agree with the lack of a religious statement on the part of public schools, and a perceived liberal political statement. It has had great impact, and will continue to have greater impact. Most people do not realize the impact of private schools across the country because it has no direct impact on their families’ life, however, digest these numbers. There are 865 private schools in Virginia alone, however, only 57 percent of them are Christian funded private schools. That means 43 percent of them are something else. It totals almost 135,000 students. Fairfax County for example has 159 private schools, and 25 private high schools. You can find a lot of politicians’ children attending there, and nearby. There are 273 private high schools in Virginia.
So with all those variables and numbers out there just how big an impact will private schools now have concerning high school athletics in our state? Time will give us that answer, but I would not assume that answer would be much different than what has happened in most other states.
It may not happen in the immediate future. We do not know how many other private schools will come on board. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them don’t care about sports. Many of them are quite small, and places like North Cross and Roanoke Catholic do not figure to have any impact at all, or even a desire to join the VHSL. It would create an additional investment for many of the smaller private schools.
But unless I miss the mark, the future from this last decision will result in the competitive bar being moved up another level in the future. I still have a couple of questions. Nobody wants to answer them, but it appears to me the decision was made in haste, and people were maybe as concerned about their own immediate future as much as anything else. For instance, I’ll ask a hypothetical question. If the VHSL had fought and lost, and became non-existent, do you really think there would not have been high school football in Virginia this fall? The VHSL was told it could not afford to fight the issue even if it won. Are you telling me that if somebody fell in your driveway next week and said they were going to sue you that you would hand them the keys to your house and move on without a fight?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I know it was a crisis situation. I understand the anxiety. I get all that stuff, but particularly as I get older, I find myself often wondering why people do not stand and fight more than they do. Just a very few issues get people upset these days, issues that I usually could care less about, but often, it seems we just relent and lose our confidence or desire to fight. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe if I knew all the potential ramifications I would feel differently. Maybe.
But I do know this. Just let history and what has happened in other states all across the country be your guidepost. High school athletics are about to change in good ol’ Virginia. How much, and how soon? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.