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Murph’s Turf: Private schools have advantage, but not monopoly

Back when he was fronting The Jam and full of anger over socio-economic disparities in England, Paul Weller penned a song called The Eton Rifles that was based on a street fight between marching workers and Eton students, who had been heckling the marchers.

Adding insult to their insults, the Eton schoolboys got the best of the brawl, leading Weller to write, “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?”

The reference to the school uniform and badge at Eton, a storied independent boarding school, served as reminder of the uphill battle the English working class faced against the country’s privileged elite. “We came out of it naturally the worst,” sang Weller, providing recap and foreshadowing at the same time.

A friend mentioned the tie and crest line following Fairfield Prep’s 12-9 victory over the Tigers in the Class L state tournament semifinals last Wednesday. As a Catholic school, Prep draws students from many Fairfield County towns, and, coincidentally (or not coincidentally) enough, many of those students also happen to be superb athletes.

Ridgefield would know. In addition to the boys lacrosse ousting, Prep uprooted Ridgefield teams from the boys basketball, boys hockey and baseball state tournaments this school year. Last spring, the Jesuits beat Ridgefield in the Class L boys lacrosse state finals; in 2011, Prep defeated Ridgefield in the boys basketball state semifinals; in 2010, the Jesuits downed Ridgefield in the boys hockey state quarterfinals.

Even when Prep loses a big game, Ridgefield appears nonimmune from collateral damage. Going into the final week of last fall’s high school football regular season, Ridgefield needed a Fairfield Prep victory over West Haven to help the Tigers get the eighth and final spot in the Class LL state tournament. Final score: West Haven 24, Fairfield Prep 7. Final state berth: West Haven, not Ridgefield.

Although Ridgefield’s year-long run as Prep’s plaything may suggest a special frustration and enmity, many other state public schools can relate their own tales of post-season demise against private-school opponents. Xavier (football), Trinity Catholic and St. Joseph (boys basketball), Kolbe Cathedral (girls basketball), Notre Dame-West Haven (boys hockey) and Prep (boys hockey, boys lacrosse) have all established themselves as prominent, bordering on dominant, programs in certain sports, leaving a wake of disgruntled opponents.

“We beat Simsbury the other day, and I think that’s for the public-school championship of Connecticut,” said Staples High School boys lacrosse coach Paul McNulty in The (Stamford) Advocate following his team’s loss to Fairfield Prep in last Saturday’s Class L finals. “Prep is very good, they have a very good coach and they have a lot of good players. But we have a medium coach, and a lot of good players, and they all live in the same town.”

Being able to draw students from beyond town lines is certainly a huge athletic advantage for Catholic and other private schools — if Nike could only hire workers from Beaverton, Ore., Adidas and Puma would be Just Doing It bigger and better. Add the persistent suspicion and rumors of illegal recruiting to those non-restrictive borders and it’s easy to understand how public school players, coaches and fans would be dissatisfied with kneeling before the altar of championships.

But for reasons ranging from geographical to legal, it’s unlikely that public-school supporters will ever get their oft-expressed wish of having Connecticut private high schools forced to compete in their own state tournament brackets. Besides, that sentiment is lousy with defeatism for what is hardly a David vs. Goliath situation.

While the Catholic schools win state titles, they also lose them. Ridgefield should know that, too. Two seasons ago, the Tigers edged Fairfield Prep, 11-10, in the Class L boys lacrosse state finals. And although the Jesuits did go on to beat Staples in this season’s title game, two of those other Prep teams (boys basketball, baseball) that bounced Ridgefield from states this school year did not win state championships. Both lost to public schools.

So rather than a call for separation, a mindset of motivation is the best approach. Yes, schools such as Fairfield Prep have an advantage, and an unfair one at that. Beating them then should act as a bigger, sweeter goal for public schools, who still do have a chance against the tie and the crest.

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  • David

    I would hate to see our competition forced into having their own league because they win too much. Losing is part of life. Get used to it. Or how about this…. try harder. (Wilton had no trouble beating Fairfield Prep last year!)

    What happens when RIdgefield students have to face the real world and get a job one day? They are competing for these jobs against the same prep school students. Should we insist that a hot ticket company like Google set up two companies, one for for smarter better qualified candidates like prep school students, and one for Ridgefield students? Get real.

    If Ridgefield wants to win, try harder. But I think we are heading in the wrong direction if we start suggesting changes to the system that will make it easier for us to win. I don’t think that qualifies as winning. I think it qualifies as embarrassing.

  • Grayson

    To bad Ridgefield lost its private schools… and Ridgefield CC

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