Recently, I had a conversation with parents who asked me whether I thought there was a big difference between 3A and 4A when it comes to athletics. It seems these parents were told their child needed to go to a 4A school. This isn't the first time I've fielded this question. Often as the head basketball coach at UAF, or even as an assistant, parents would ask my opinion on this matter.
First, let’s be clear there is no advantage or disadvantage when it comes to individual sports, such as cross-country running/ skiing, or track and field. In these individual sports, the athlete’s time, distance, height jumped, or the distance the shot put or discus has been thrown are directly comparable to all other athletes, regardless of the level at which you compete. If you are from Chevak and you run the mile in 4:20, nobody is going to care how big your school is and nobody can say, “Yeah, well he couldn’t do that at a 4A school.”
So we have immediately established there is no difference between 3A and 4A when it comes to individual sports.
Now, let’s look at baseball. In baseball, all teams across the state compete at the same level. So a 3A school will compete directly against 4A schools. In our four years competing as a varsity baseball team, we have twice reached the state tournament. Obviously, being 3A has not hindered our ability to compete with the big schools. Also, we have a player on scholarship at Northern Illinois who had his first two years of college completely paid for and was also drafter in the 18th round. 3A didn’t seem to hinder his recruitment.
Essentially, this argument comes down to a discussion of whether a child should choose a school based on 3A v. 4A for volleyball, basketball, hockey, or football. All other sports are either individual or compete directly with one another making a 3A v. 4A argument moot. The argument raised by proponents of 4A schools seems to be that by going to a 4A school, you will play better competition and you will give yourself a better chance at being recruited and getting a scholarship. Of course this is complete hogwash. However, instead of dismissing it out of hand, let’s look at both of these arguments and analyze them:
First, let’s talk competition. I do believe 4A schools will certainly play more 4A schools over the course of the season. However, when we have had competitive teams in any sport, we have played exceptionally challenging schedules filled with games against 4A schools. Take for instance our boys’ basketball team, who three years ago went 28-0. Of the eight teams comprising the 4A state basketball tournament, we had played seven of them and went 11-0, with our closest game being 9 points. We beat the two 4A schools who played for the state championship that year three times by an average of 29 points.
We have done the same thing with volleyball, in regard to scheduling a large number of 4A games to ensure we get great competition and challenge our student athletes. Next year, due to the success of our hockey team, we will play a significant portion of our schedule against 4A competition. The bottom line is, the competition argument doesn’t hold up, because we have always been capable of and willing to schedule according to how competitive we are.
Now, let’s discuss scholarships. This seems to be on the mind of every parent. I am amazed at the misinformation out there. Having spent eleven years of my life recruiting high school athletes to play college basketball, I do know a little about this topic and I can tell you, it truly is utterly ridiculous to think attending a 4A school will lead to a greater opportunity to be recruited.
An athlete’s recruitment hinges on a number of things, none of which are the size of his or her school. First, an athlete has to be very gifted from an athletic and skill standpoint. Very few of the athletes who don a jersey in any sport have the combination of athleticism and skill necessary to get them a scholarship. Secondly, a player will need to have some exposure. This exposure will not be created through your high school team — it will be determined by what a player does in the off-season. Does anyone really believe Ruthie Hebard wouldn’t have signed with Oregon if she went to Monroe? Or for that matter, Hutchison? Of course she would have. Ruthie wasn’t offered a scholarship because she went to a 4A school. She was offered a scholarship because high profile colleges saw her play in the summer as she traveled with her AAU team, not her high school team.
Being recruited is very much about what you do in the summer. As further proof of this, we will have a young lady signing a National Letter of Intent to play soccer and we have not had a girls soccer team at Monroe (though we aspire to) in seven years.
A third factor in an athlete being recruited is their ability to get better and grow as an athlete and player. This requires quality coaching. Where will your child get better? Where will they reach their full potential? This could be at a school of any level - from 1A to 4A. This is a determination the parents must make in their decision. I would take umbrage with anyone who believes a coach at the 4A level is automatically better than a coach at the 2A level - not because I am arrogant enough to think I am better than a 4A coach, but because I have spent a lifetime around coaches of all levels and I can tell you there are great coaches and average coaches at ALL levels.
Another factor is the education of the student. Where will your child be able to grow and flourish as a student? All the athletic ability in the world isn’t going to matter if you can’t do the work academically. Parents need to make this determination and truly evaluate the education their child will be offered.
I am not naive. I understand parents often make their decisions based on athletics, but the decision needs to be about both. Again, where will your child be challenged? Where will they receive academic support when necessary? If these factors aren’t a part of the equation, there is a problem.
Finally, parents must factor social components into the equation. Where will your child be safe, happy and capable of flourishing socially and if it is important to you, spiritually? The answer to this question can be very different for every child and it may very well be that your child will flourish in a bigger school or setting. Only you will know the answer to this. My point is to make sure you factor this into the equation.
A cynic will tell you I have a dog in this fight, since I coach at a 3A school. I would like to turn this around and ask, who is telling parents their child needs to play 4A instead of 3A? If I play the cynic, I would venture that folks advocating 4A over 3A are comp coaches who are trying to push better players to schools where their child is playing, in hopes of ensuring their child has more success. Or perhaps the parent simply wants to see more good players playing alongside their child. I get it — we all want to see our child have success. However, the next time you hear someone telling you, or someone else for that matter, that a child should choose 4A over 3A, ask them their qualifications for giving such advice and then ask them to make their argument. You have heard mine.
This story is reprinted from The Full Curl, published weekly by Coach Ostanik. You can find Coach O and Monroe Athletic results on Twitter @thefullcurl.