Arizona’s high school governing body could have a big problem brewing with its small schools.
The early tremors of coming confrontations have appeared in boys basketball following the state championships.
While the girls’ games couldn’t exactly be called cliff-hangers, the outcome on the boys’ side seemed to be decided long before the playoffs arrived.
The Gilbert Christian girls team beat Fort Thomas, 44-31, in the 1A match-up, but it was just a five-point lead at half time and Fort Thomas had actually pulled to within one at 26-25. But a 18-5 run led by senior guard Molly VanRyne, who had 12 points in the second half, enabled Gilbert Christian to pull away for the win.
In the 2A title game, Valley Christian (Chandler) coasted to their second straight championship with a 53-35 win over Thatcher High. In some ways it had to be considered an upset since Thatcher was the top-ranked team going in. But senior Ashton Wolf poured in a game-high 24 points to help bury Thatcher.
On the boys’ side, The Orme School claimed the 1A trophy with a 68-56 win over Gilbert Christian and Westwind Prep polished off a season of domination by adding Thatcher to its long list of vanquished opponents this season with a 82-63 victory.
Orme went undefeated this season enroute to the school’s first state title in basketball with a starting line-up that didn’t include a single American player. And Westwind, a public charter school, has gone through the season averaging 91 points a game and running up scores well over 100 points on numerous occasions – with a roster that includes four transfer students and a foreign exchange player from Latvia.
And therein lies the rub.
Orme is a small boarding school that for many years has fielded teams that included students from abroad. It just happened this season that those players were also good athletes.
Westwind, however, acknowledges its desire to become a national powerhouse and apparently makes no apologies for using players who have just checked in for the basketball program.
Its coach, a former college coach named Gary Trousdale, has been quoted as saying, “The program is recruiting the kids, but there is no actual recruiting.”
That’s a fine line, say the other coaches.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association, which sets the ground rules for high school athletics in Arizona, acknowledges the problem… but doesn’t seem to know what to do about it.
“If they meet the eligibility requirements, there’s nothing we can do,” said the AIA’s chief operations officer, Chuck Schmidt, in an interview with The Arizona Republic.
Orme’s coach, Todd Roe, admits that this may be a one-time perfect storm for his basketball program because they wound up with a core of experienced players to start the season.
But everyone knows success begets success and word will spread to other players from far-away lands who are looking for a great high school basketball experience in the U.S. This could be the start of a title run for Orme.
On the other hand, Trousdale has fired another shot across the bow of the AIA by boasting about the growing impact of his program which, he says, will include “some high-major players coming here next year that are going to shock a lot of people.”
Schmidt needs to re-think his position on this issue because it isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The other coaches in the small-school divisions aren’t going to put up with Westwind’s end-run around the recruiting issue – especially those getting beat by scores like 102-33, as Greyhills Academy experienced this season.
Next November will be here soon enough. So now’s the time for the AIA to begin figuring this thing out.
Before Trousdale’s “high-major players” get here.