Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in Arlington recently won the right to compete regularly against public high schools in athletics when U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis ordered the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to accept the private Catholic school's membership application.
Several other area private schools have indicated little, if any, interest in joining VHSL despite the ruling in O'Connell's favor.
O'Connell sued VHSL for discrimination in violation of the 14th amendment. The VHSL maintained that section eight of its constitution limited membership to public schools, but O'Connell attorney William McMurtrie noted in court that the League had operated as an agent of the state for years and that any tax paying school, public or private, should be granted admission.
O'Connell thniks that admission into the League will triple its income from athletic events because it could then compete regularly against nearby public schools in major revenue-producing sports, particularly football.
Other area private schools see things differently.
"We have no intention at all of playing in any other league," said Joseph B. Doty, principal of St. Stephen's School for Boys in Alexandria. "We are in the IAC (Interstate Athletic Conference) and it's a fine league. Interest, patronage and attendance in our program are high."
The IAC consists of six private schools - St. Albans, Sidwell Friends, Landon, Georgetown Prep, Bullis Prep and St. Stephen's.
Occasionally, St. Stephen's competes against Culpeper and Osborne Park public high schools, but Doty says, "We play them because it's good competition and practice for our team and those games help us fill out our schedule."
Doty emphasizes that the school's athletic program is built on IAC competition.
Episcopal High School in Alexandria is currently being considered for admission to the IAC "so we have no interest in the VHSL," according to Episcopal athletic director Dick Yarborough.
"Our needs are not the same as O'Connell's," Yarborough said. "O'Connell has more problems than we do. We have a lucrative athletic budget. We don't have to depend upon gate receipts. All we hope for, really, is enough money for each gate to pay officials. we're just fortunate."
One of the major differences between O'Connell and other area private schools is student enrollment. In grades 9 through 12, O'Connell has 1,600 students while St. Stephen's has approximately 300 and Episcopal 275. O'Connell also is coeducational while St. Stephen's and Episcopal are not. O'Connell principal Al Burch thinks competing against public schools would help balance his school's athletic program for girls according to Title 9 guidelines.