Private schools not able to compete in weekend cross country Cabell County championship

Published: Oct. 9, 2020 at 7:47 PM EDT
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Many student athletes have had disappointing or shortened seasons.

Now some private middle school cross country teams say they’ve been sidelined for a meet they thought they might be allowed to compete.

Some parents hope this will be the conversation that could spark some change in Cabell County.

“Our kids lace up their shoes just like the other kids lace up theirs,” said Drew Smith, parent of a cross country runner at Our Lady of Fatima.

A few parents in Cabell County say their student athletes, who attend private schools, will not be able to compete in this weekend’s cross country county championship, despite racing against some of the public schools during the regular season.

“It’s been a little disappointing for the kids and the coaches because they’ve all worked so hard, just like they do every other year,” said Tiffany Hensley, another parent to a cross country runner at Our Lady of Fatima.

Cabell County Public Schools says this has been the case for as long as anyone in the district office can recall. That includes a variety of reasons like maintaining the tradition of inter-district competition and the fact that some private schools aren’t sanctioned by the WVSSAC and not subject to the same team rules and regulations.

“Covenant has a cross country team which is new this year, so we were hoping since there were three of us that we would be allowed in,” Hensley said.

Our Lady of Fatima is sanctioned by the WVSSAC, but the Cabell County schools says that isn’t an automatic entry point in being allowed to participate.

WSAZ reached out to the WVSSAC who says it’s up to the individual schools and districts on who they invite to compete.

Parents say they still wish their students were able to race in this weekend’s championship.

“Where a kid chooses or their parents choose for them to go to school has no relation on what and where they choose to do their after school athletic activity,” Smith said.

Ultimately runners at St. Joseph Catholic School, Our Lady of Fatima and Covenant School won’t be allowed to run in the county’s championship on Saturday. However, organizers say they have volunteers who will manage a separate race on the same course to be held at 12 p.m.

Cabell County School District leadership says they remain open to discussions with private school administrators about the future. But parents say those talks won’t change Saturday’s outcome.

The full statement from Cabell County Schools can be found below:

"At the present time, private schools are not permitted to participate in the public school district’s middle school cross country championship.

This has been the case for as long as anyone in our district office can recall. Ultimately, it is up to the public school districts whether or not to allow outside, private school teams to participate in inter-district competitions. Our public school district has opted not to do so for a majority of sports. Here is some rationale behind that decision:

  • The public school district has a tradition of inter-district competition. For instance, every year, we host middle school football and basketball (golf, track, volleyball and wresting) championships that are great fun for the students, staff and parents of our district because these competitions create a family-style, friendly rivalry among our district’s `schools. Likewise, every year on the gridiron, football teams from Cabell Midland High School and Huntington High School play each other in a “Battle for the Shield.” These games are extremely popular with the public school district’s students and families…something similar to the years that WVU would play Marshall University.
  • Private schools are indeed, by their very nature, separate entities from public schools. Cabell County Public Schools (our full name) is a school district with the primary purpose of serving students enrolled in the county’s 26 public schools for which we receive funding from the state. The parents of students at private schools opt to pay tuition to those institutions so that their children can be exempted from compulsory attendance in the district’s public schools. Our district, unlike most in the state, does offer opportunities for private school students to participate in athletic competition, such as the private school cross country meet Cabell County Schools is sponsoring this Saturday at 12:00 PM. In order to make that event possible, our public school employees are volunteering their unpaid time to manage the meet, and the district or school will receive no reimbursement for the costs, direct and indirect, associated with the event.
  • Cabell County Schools sometimes competes against private schools during the regular season.
  • While not an automatic entry point into our inter-district competitions, unlike Cabell County’s public schools, some local private schools are not sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission (WVSSAC). The only one currently sanctioned by the WVSSAC is Our Lady of Fatima according to the WVSSAC. The WVSSAC is the governing body over athletics in the state and establishes requirements and rules for both student athlete and team participation. Our public school teams and athletes work extremely hard to meet all of WVSSAC’s requirements, whether they be on the playing field or in the classroom. The private schools have the option of becoming sanctioned by the WVSSAC, but some have chosen not to do so. Many of our teams, students and parents have expressed to coaches, school and district leaders they are uncomfortable competing against teams that are not sanctioned by WVSSAC and not subject to the same individual and team rules and regulations.

The only exception we can find to this private school participation in inter-athletic competition decision is with middle school tennis. Somewhere along the way, over many years, it was decided to allow the private schools to participate in that competition. This may have been an individual coach’s decision or the decision of a school because it is not consistent with the district’s other decisions over many decades. However, because that practice has obviously been in place for many years, district leadership has no interest in changing it at this time.

Of course, our school district leadership remains open to discussions with private school administrators about the future; however, at this time, the current rule disallowing private school participation in inter-district competitions remains in place. "

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