Analytic look at competitive balance between private and public schools in sports

Commentary: Tim Martinez

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor



You know, I hate sounding like a broken record. Most writers do — not all, but most.

But this story about the Archbishop Murphy football team is fascinating and it brings out the passion in people.

But this week, I’m not going to talk directly about the Wildcats. Instead, I’m going to discuss private schools vs. public schools and perception vs. reality.

So for starters, I’m going to make a statement that I think we can all agree about: Private schools in this state — or any state for that matter — have advantages afforded to them that public schools do not.

Agreed? Good. Now consider this.

In this state, private schools are aware of this advantages and many have actually taken steps to mitigate them in the interest of fair play.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look.

There are about 380 high schools that compete in sports in the Washington Interscholastic Actitivies Association. Of these schools, about 60 are private schools. The overwhelming majority of these schools compete in the small-school divisions of 1A, 2B and 1B.

Of the 10 largest private schools in the state, nine compete in a classification above where their enrollment numbers would allow them to compete. Five of those schools compete two classifications up from their enrollment number.

In this most recent enrollment reclassification, eight schools decided to opt-up from 2B to compete in 1A. All eight are private schools.

These moves have helped create some competitive balance when it comes to private schools. How do I know that?

Well, you might remember last spring I wrote a column suggesting that classification not be done purely on enrollment. I suggested that a school’s success rate — or lack thereof — should also be factored into what classification that school competed at.

So I devised a point system that gave schools credit base on how well they placed in state tournaments and meets in 17 different sports over the last classification cycle, which covered the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

Let’s take a look a what those results were.

In 4A, the top five schools were Tahoma (46 points), Central Valley (41), Camas (40), Issaquah (40) and Skyline (37). To find the first private school, you’d have to go to Bellarmine Prep at ninth (31). Gonzaga Prep came in at 18th (20).

At 3A, two schools topped the list with 50 points: Bellevue and Holy Names. Now, you remember earlier when I said nine of the 10 largest private schools opt-up? Well, that one school that did not was Holy Names Academy, an all-girls school in Seattle.

Holy Names has proportionately the largest enrollment of any private school in the state. That enrollment makes Holy Names a 3A school, and that’s where Holy Names plays. Although you could say Holy Names should probably be a 4A school.

The rest of the 3A top five is rounded out by Mercer Island (37), Lakeside (37) and Kamiakin (36). Lakeside of Seattle is a private school, as is O’Dea (29) at eighth. There are no other private schools in the top 17.

At 2A, there is only one private school — Archbishop Murphy, which comes in at No. 9 (27 points). The top 2A schools are Liberty (53), Sehome (53), Shorecrest (36) and Ellensburg (35). Shorecrest has since moved up to 3A in this current classification cycle.

At 1A, private school King’s tops the list with 61 points — 20 points better than the No. 2 school, Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls. King’s does not opt-up despite only have 40 fewer students than Archbishop Murphy, which did opt up to 2A. So maybe King’s should opt-up. And maybe the same could be said for Lynden Christian, which ranked third (36). There are no other private schools in the top 12.

Now, I’m not just picking on private schools. I think public schools that dominate their classification — like Bellevue, Liberty or Sehome — should also opt-up, which could create opportunities for weaker schools to drop down.

If you want to look at all the numbers I’ve compiled and how they were compiled, you can find them on our high schools blog at

The issue with private schools is that critics shouldn’t look at one particular sport, or even one particular season of a sport.

If you step back and look at the entire picture, things are pretty much where they should be, with some minor alterations.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.