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Now that Wasatch Academy has yawned its way to a second consecutive 2A state high school basketball championship, it’s time for the Utah High School Activities Association — and the academy itself — to act.
And that is exactly what is expected to happen later this month. The only question is why it took so long.
You know what’s great about small-town (1A-2A) sports? For the most part, they’ve avoided the transfer and recruiting issues that plague big-city schools, at least in part because the small schools are separated by great distances. It’s high school competition the way it used to be. With rare exceptions, the teams are made up of kids from the same hometown, kids who grew up together and dreamed of playing for the local high school alongside their friends and neighbors, competing against teams also made up of locals.
Not anymore. Now a ringer has arrived on the scene, an expensive boarding school located in Mount Pleasant, with a former college and prep coach from Chicago and players from Canada, Nigeria, France, Illinois and Utah.
It’s not a fair fight. It’s an all-star team collected from around the world to compete against boys from Monroe (population: 2,300), Castle Dale (1,600), Salina (2,500), Blanding (3,500), Moab (5,000) and Enterprise (1,752), among others.
Suddenly, after going 136 years without winning a state championship, Team United Nations has put a powerhouse on the court and won three championships in four years — the 1A title in 2011, the 2A title in 2013 and 2014.
In 27 games — which included nine out-of-state opponents — the average score was Wasatch 78, Opponents 44. The Tigers’ only loss was a one-point decision to a school from Florida. They played a pair of 4A schools and beat them — 54-51 over Orem and 82-49 over Timpview. Orem is 15-9, Timpview 20-4, and both schools qualified for the 4A state playoffs.
The Tigers’ average score against 2A opponents was 75-39. Their march through last week’s state tournament was ridiculously lopsided — 74-31 vs. Rowland Hall; 89-41 vs. Gunnison; 63-27 vs. South Sevier (the 2011 and 2012 state champions); and 76-47 vs. Enterprise.
The Tigers are reputed to have at least one Division I-caliber player on their team and probably two more who are underclassmen. You could probably count on two hands the number of small-school players who have played for Division I universities in the past 25 years: Craig and Mark Rydalch (Utah), Ryan Cuff (BYU/Arizona State/Weber State), Shawn Bradley (BYU), and Race Parsons (SUU).
Ignoring talent for a moment, just look at the height difference: The Tigers have just one player under 6 feet and average 6-foot-4½. Enterprise and South Sevier average under 6 feet and don’t have a player taller than 6-foot-3.
This is how ridiculous the situation was: In a regular-season game against the Tigers, South Sevier coach Rhett Parsons ordered his team to hold the ball the entire fourth quarter — while trailing by 17 points. Why? He didn’t want to lose by 40 and he wanted to make a statement. Sure enough, when Parsons' Rams tried to play the Tigers straight up in the state tournament, they lost by 36 points.
The reason for the disparity is simple: As a private school, Wasatch Academy is playing by a different set of rules. The argument for fairness begins and ends with this fact: Wasatch Academy can recruit students and offer scholarships; the public schools cannot.
By rule, private schools can recruit only for academics, not athletics, but that’s a fine line, and do you think it’s a coincidence the Tigers just happened to land students from around the world for their academics who also are 6-foot-8 and possess good basketball skills?
After years of protest from the 2A ranks, which included a meeting of 2A principles this year, it appears something will finally be done about the situation.
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