Randy Smith: Public Vs. Private: Separate But Equal?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

It appears that athletic programs in Tennessee’s public and private schools are headed for a final separation. It’s been coming for almost twenty years, and considering that close to 80% of the state’s school administrators now favor the move, it is inevitable.

The ramifications of such a move could be unbelievable. The public schools have ranted and raved for years about private schools recruiting their best athletes and creating an unfair advantage on the field of play. In 1997, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association formed two separate divisions; Division I for public schools and Division II for private schools that granted financial aid. Private schools could remain part of Division I as long as they provided no financial aid for student-athletes. Many smaller private schools across the state, chose to remain D-I.

This still did not solve the problem however, and a few years ago, the TSSAA created a multiplier which raised the competition level for the D-I private schools. School administrators in Tennessee still were not happy, so now it looks as if total and complete separation is near.   

The public schools have a definite point or two. A certain private school in Nashville, had four NCAA Division I signees on their boys’ basketball team, with two of them moving to Nashville from Atlanta. The public schools who cried foul are right; they can’t compete with that. On the other hand, every school district in Tennessee should strictly enforce boundary lines for each school, as well as strive for equal opportunities for every student who wishes to participate in athletics. Allowing students to live in one area, and attend a school in another, should be stopped.

Here is something else for the public school administrators and supporters to chew on. A complete separation of public and private schools will not stop the private schools from recruiting your best athletes. If a student is big enough, fast enough and talented enough, the private schools will find him or her. You can bet on that.

I have seen both sides and participated on both sides. Both my children attended private high schools; one at GPS and another at Boyd-Buchanan. They were both college athletes as well and looking back I would do the same thing all over again. I am also a public school educator and I love public education, but schools everywhere need a lot of work. (Another story for another day.)

The public-private split is simply a part of what is happening in our society. It will definitely widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots. For instance, the voucher system that would give money to under-privileged public students to attend private schools, as proposed last year by the Tennessee state legislators, will do nothing more than kill public education. It is just a way to spend some money, yet avoid a bigger problem; the problem of properly funding our public school systems.      

If you think things are equal in the Hamilton County schools, think again. Look at the facilities at Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy and East Hamilton, then take a gander at the facilities at Brainerd, Tyner and Howard. It goes beyond athletics; it also involves technology and support services, and it is anything but equal.

I have heard proponents of the public-private split, say “It’s a win-win situation for both sides.” The only way that will be possible is to come up with enough money to “fix” all the problems we have in our public school system, because the private schools already have all they need.

In case you’re wondering, I really am not taking either side. I want the same thing for all of our young people; an equal chance for a good education. Our country can ill afford to do anything less.


Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.

His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.

He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.

In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.

To contact Randy: rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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