Philadelphia School Questioned
Sunday, February 12, 2006
By most every basketball measure, Lutheran Christian Academy in Philadelphia is among the most successful high school programs in the nation. More than a dozen of its athletes are currently playing at Division I colleges, including Georgetown and George Washington. And it has a 92-11 record over the past three seasons.
But among some college coaches, the private school has become a symbol of what they believe is one of the game's growing problems: prep schools with questionable academic programs that help players with deficient academic performances become eligible to play Division I sports.
The school does not have its own building or formal classrooms, and it operates out of a community center in a ragged North Philadelphia neighborhood. It has just one full-time employee: the basketball coach, a former sanitation worker who founded the school. One former student, who attended the school for three months, said it did not use traditional textbooks and that the coach, Darryl Schofield, was the only teacher.
Yet Lutheran Christian graduates remain a hot commodity for college recruiters.
"Prep schools are the biggest problem in our sport today, and Lutheran Christian Academy is one of the worst," said one college head coach, who has visited the school. Said an assistant coach, who recruits from schools in the Philadelphia area: "We don't recruit players from Lutheran. Lutheran's players aren't prepared academically to attend college, and we don't need those headaches."
Both coaches requested anonymity in the belief that fellow coaches would ostracize them.
Schofield defended the school, saying it employs four part-time teachers who work with the school's 30 students, all male, and that the school offers a strong curriculum. He said the school affords opportunities to players who otherwise wouldn't be able to enroll in college.
Two current players on the team also said the school offers a legitimate curriculum. The NCAA Clearinghouse, which validates the transcripts of student-athletes for eligibility purposes, approved 35 courses offered by Lutheran Christian, according to the clearinghouse's Web site.
"I was an AAU guy," said Schofield, referring to the popular youth basketball leagues across the country. "I didn't want to be one of the hypocrites that used the kids and pumped them up all summer and then when they need help, we're not there for them."
According to Pennsylvania Department of Education records, the school graduated all seven of its seniors in the 2003-04 school year. Schofield said his players have an 80 percent graduation rate from college.
"Our success rate of kids graduating from college is very high, probably up there with the percentages of the prep schools in Boston," Schofield said. "It's evident that all the kids who have come through our program, they're doing well academically in college. I could care less about the basketball. Academics are the only thing I care about."
The Prep School Scene
There are more than 1,000 college preparatory schools in the country. The ones with strong athletic programs often enroll players who have completed four years of high school without achieving the necessary grades and standardized test scores to attend and play basketball at a major university.