There has been some more conversation recently about the multiplier that the Illinois High School Association uses to calculate enrollments for some high schools and then to assign teams to divisions for sports competitions.
To rehash a little bit: Before 2009 the IHSA state championships divided schools into two divisions for track and field and cross country—large schools and small schools, AA and A. The cut-off was around 750 students total enrollment. In that system Saint Ignatius College Prep, with an enrollment of around 1375, was clearly a large school—no problem. We were still, however, among the smaller half of the schools in AA, competing against many city and suburban schools that enrolled 2,000 and more students.
It had made no difference to us when in 2006 the IHSA instituted a 1.65 enrollment multiplier for “non-boundary” schools—private, Catholic, and public schools that do not draw students from a specific geographical area. Basically the smaller public schools from around the state ganged up on the private, Catholic, and city schools—mainly because of the success of those schools in very specific sports: football and girls volleyball. Football, with its eight classifications, was a particular target. The multiplier was intended to move some of the Catholic school powerhouse football teams up in class into competition with bigger public high schools.
As a result, our 1375 Saint Ignatius enrollment became 2200 under the multiplier. But in track and cross country, both two division sports back then, it meant nothing to us. We were already classified as a big school, remember.
But then, in 2009, the IHSA instituted another change: three divisions for track and cross country. The cut-offs were roughly at 750 for 1A, 750-1500 for 2A, and above 1500 for 3A. Ignatius should be a 2A school by straight enrollment. But the multiplier put us in 3A. We have competed in 3A ever since.
The story got a little bit more complicated in 2011 when the IHSA instituted an automatic waiver system that exempted many schools from the multiplier on a sport by sport basis. Essentially, if a multiplied school has not been able to compete successfully in a particular sport against the larger school class, it is no longer multiplied in that sport.
There are many interesting issues with the multiplier. The waiver procedure raises more issues.
But it is still really a non-issue for us. We have had enough success as a team in track and cross country that we expect to be multiplied. I actually began blogging here two years ago mainly because I simply wanted to think about and write about the multiplier and the issues it raises for our cross country and track teams at Saint Ignatius. The conclusion I reached then continues to hold. In conversations with my athletes, they have told me that they prefer to compete in the 3A large-school division of the IHSA against the best competition in the state.
In 2013, especially, we showed that we are able to do so. At the state track meet in May, we scored 28 points to finish fourth in the 3A meet. Most of our points came from one athlete, our double state champion Jack Keelan, who won the 1600- and 3200-meter runs. We scored ninth place in the 4×800, and in his third state meet junior Conor Dunham finished third in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles. We also qualified other athletes who competed at the state meet in the pole vault, the long jump, and the 4×400 relay. For the second consecutive year, we won a sectional meet team championship, in addition to qualifying our strong group of athletes for the state meet, and this year the competition included a perennial sectional champion and last year’s third-place state team, Oak Park-River Forest. This was our team’s best performance ever in the state series, and it is a fair claim that this was the best team Saint Ignatius has ever produced.
But a look at the 2A results and a quick calculation suggests that we could have scored as many as 70 points in the 2A state meet, good enough for 2nd place—and a possible challenge against this year’s dominant team from Cahokia. In 2A we might have scored points in eight additional individual events, and in two more relays. What’s more, we might have had as many as 16 more athletes qualify for the 2A state meet, depending upon where we were assigned for a 2A sectional.
That kind of success would arguably have made us an even more storied team. Fourth place in the state meet did not give us a trophy. Second place in 2A would have given us one.
The multiplier has recently been a topic on Dyestat.com’s tracktalk page. The kick-off point was an overheard conversation recounted by Bob Geiger, former Dyestat Illinois owner, FAT proprietor, and semi-retired coach at Whitney Young. At a sectional seed meeting, according to Geiger, a 2A coach for a team with a multiplier waiver talked about keeping kids out of the meet to avoid scoring points that might earn the team a spot next year in the 3A series. Under the complicated rules of the multiplier, if you finish in the top three spots at the sectional meet as a team for two years out of six, you lose the waiver—and you might bump up in class. [Edit: Actually, I just took a look again at Geiger’s post, and he talks about multiple coaches talking this way at two different sectional meetings.]
Our Saint Ignatius team, for the record, does not care about the waiver; we care about scoring points. We have won two sectionals, and I think we have finished in the top three of every sectional meet since I started as coach ten years ago. After our sectional win this year, we are automatically multiplied for the next five years.
Andrew Adelmann, track and cross country coach at Jones College Prep, recently wrote a blog post about the multiplier on the Dyestatil.com site. The gist of his argument was that it is unfair to apply the same 1.65 multiplier to the enrollments of magnet high schools in Chicago and to the Catholic and private schools which have special advantages in terms of admissions procedures, offering financial scholarships, and recruiting generally. City magnet schools, after all, are not un-boundaried schools, he noted; they enroll students from the city of Chicago, and they do so under a set of admissions rules that are very strict.
Jones is in a particularly problematic position with regard to the multiplier. They are a successful program—especially in cross country, where they were the 2A boys state champions in 2012. They were successful as a track program for a few years competing as a 2A school in sectional meets; they had two top-three team scores in the last three years, which means they are multiplied for three more years. The Jones enrollment is about 880, which multiplies to 1450. For cross country, they are a 2A school, with the cut-off above 1600. But for track, the 2A cut-off is just above 1400; Jones was 3A for track this year, and they will be 3A for next year, as well. What’s more, Jones opens its new school building this year, and enrollment will increase a bit more over the next few years to over 1,000, moving them closer to 3A status under the multiplier in cross country, as well as track.
I consider Adelmann a coaching friend. I haven’t had a chance to tell him directly that I didn’t like the blog.
In his blog he has essentially accepted the basic argument in favor of the multiplier from the public schools around the state, which is that Catholic schools, in particular, have advantages in terms of recruiting athletes. I don’t think that this argument has any relevance whatsoever in terms of Saint Ignatius or, really, for track and field, generally. Adelmann posted his blog on a track and field web site—and, in addition to being professional friends, we are also the Catholic school that is his closest rival. He seemed to be talking about us.
The common argument that Adelmann seems to accept so quickly—Catholic schools have recruiting advantages–actually seems to ignore some pretty basic real world issues for families and adolescents that come up when students consider whether to attend our school.
I fail to see how it is a recruiting advantage for Saint Ignatius when we tell families that they have to pay $15,300 for tuition to attend our school, whereas it is free to attend a public school. We have demanding admissions standards; only about half the 1,000 students who apply get an acceptance. We have strict rules about financial aid procedures, which are need-based; parents have to submit documented financial information in order to apply for aid. Contrary to popular belief, apparently, there are no athletic scholarships.
What’s more, when students come to Saint Ignatius, they also have to accept the special requirements that come with attendance at a Catholic school that is arguably doing everything it can do to define itself as Catholic–and different from the mainstream adolescent culture. This includes, among other things, going to church as a school several times a year, saying a school prayer daily, and taking four years of religion classes. We also have a disciplinary system with what others might call detention, but which we call “Jug,” or “justice under God.” You can get a jug for having your shirt untucked (boy), or because your skirt is too short (girl), or because traffic on the Edens or the Eisenhower frequently makes you late for school. The students who attend Saint Ignatius choose to accept these things; many other adolescent students would not—and do not.
Finally, there are issues with attending school at a distance from your home—including commuting and managing city and suburban transportation to Saint Ignatius by bus, train, and car. Many of our students commute for an hour or more–each way. It is also not a small thing to leave friends behind at home, especially when those friends will go on to the hometown local high school together–and you will be going to another one in the city, perhaps on your own.
Approximately a fifth of the students who get accepted to attend Saint Ignatius choose instead to attend another high school—usually a local public high school, or, in the city, one of the magnet schools like Jones College Prep.
This year I had contact with two special “recruits.” I use that word very loosely. I did not seek out these boys to invite or encourage them to attend Saint Ignatius because of athletic ability. They are boys who apparently had an interest in our school—and who then identified themselves to me because of their interest in running. Because they wanted to attend our school and they had questions about our track and cross country programs, they wanted me to know about their special talents as runners. They were probably among the best runners I ever “recruited” this way.
One boy I met once for a short conversation after he ran the elementary school race we host in conjunction with our Connelly-Polka Cross Country Invite; it is an event that we actually co-host with Fenwick. I think we also briefly met in the hallway passing period on his shadow day at Saint Ignatius; he was not even escorted that day by a runner from our team. The boy, his father, and I shared a few emails, providing information about our program. This boy tested at Saint Ignatius in January, he was accepted in February, and then his parents accepted his spot with a $500 non-refundable deposit in March. Mid-May I got the surprising news that he would be attending one of the strong magnet high schools in the city next year. He had attended a small Catholic school for his elementary school years, and he wanted something different for high school.
I did have a short conversation with the cross country coach from this high school, after the fact. The coach certainly knew about this boy’s decision, and at the family’s request, he said, he had in fact arranged for the boy’s shadow day at the school. I sent a last email to the boy and his father telling them that he would have lots of fun and good coaching running with the boys at his chosen school.
A second “recruit” I met twice, first at the Saint Ignatius open house last December. He spent a lot of his time that day—20 minutes or so— in our school gym talking with Dan Santino, our star freshman runner; we spoke only briefly. I sent him the same follow up email that I send to all the boys I meet at open house, thanking them for their interest and offering to answer any future questions. He tested at Ignatius in January, was accepted in February, made his deposit in March, and then enrolled in classes in April when he visited for a registration meeting with another Ignatius teacher. It was on the day he registered for classes that I met him the second time, just to shake hands and say hello. I have been sending him emails this summer about our plans for the fall and our summer runs at Waterfall Glen on Sunday mornings. Last week he sent me an email to say he would be attending the suburban public high school where he lives. I think, finally, that he really just wanted to go to high school there with his friends from grammar school.
I can assure my coaching friend Andrew Adelmann that not one of the athletes on my team was “recruited”—in the real meaning of the term–to come to Saint Ignatius as a track athlete. A few of the boys on the team, including a couple siblings of Ignatius students at the time, participated in Ignatius summer camps before they applied; Dan Santino, brother of our 2011-12 cross country and track captain Patrick Santino, actually attended Ignatius lacrosse camp. A couple of our future athletes, like Santino, competed in elementary school track and cross country meets that we have organized. I meet a few boys who join our team each year as freshmen when they are 7th or 8th graders at the open house Ignatius holds each year in December, and I might have sent those few an email with follow up information about our team.
There are 80 or so boys on our track and cross country team rosters. I believe that I met all but four or five of them on the very first day of practice—and Jack Keelan, as a specific example, is one of the boys I met on the first day of cross country practice in August of 2010. [Edit: Keelan has reminded me that we actually met a few weeks before this when he attended a couple of our summer runs at Waterfall Glen. At the time he was also running with the Lyons summer running camp weekday mornings.]
So much for recruiting–or maybe I am just really bad at it. Recent evidence suggests it is certainly not one of my strengths as a coach. And that is maybe how it is supposed to be.