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ELLWOOD CITY (KDKA) — It’s Friday night basketball, and there’s excitement in the air as Ellwood City’s Lincoln High School is hosting Lincoln Park, a performing arts charter school from Beaver County.
But all of that energy and anticipation disappear within a few minutes into the game as the visitors subject the homeowners to a beatdown.
Though Lincoln Park Charter has only 111 boys students, it has consistently fielded one of the best basketball teams in the state, routinely decimating public schools of any size. They’re one more reason some say the system has to change.
While public schools must enroll only students who live within their district, Catholic, private and charter schools like Lincoln Park are not constrained by geographic boundaries in attracting student-athletes. Public schools say they can no longer compete.
“We are looking for a fair and equitable playing field for all students within the state of Pennsylvania. Quite frankly, the current system isn’t fair and doesn’t provide equitable opportunities for student-athletes,” said Leonard Ruch, the superintendent of the Laurel School District.
Private schools make up only 18 percent of the schools in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, but they’ve won more than 60 percent of the state championships in the past few years.
Public school superintendents like Rich have been petitioning the PIAA to create separate playoffs for private and public schools, and are now taking their case to the state legislature.
“The legislature needs to take up this issue, and we do need to have a separate layoff system so boundary schools compete against boundary schools and non-boundary schools compete against non-boundary schools. That would be fair,” Rich said.
The WPIAL board remains divided on the issue and Executive Director Tim O’Malley believes that fairness can be achieved if schools follow the current rule of not accepting students who transfer with athletic intent.
“In its form. In its idealistic form, if it’s followed and it’s adhered to, it provides for fair competition between schools that have and don’t have boundaries,” said O’Malley.
Still, the inequities persist. Lincoln Park has won their WPIAL division championship four out the past five years, going on to claim one state title and one-second place. On this night, they beat Ellwood City by a score of 77-31.