In the past 11 years, Flint Hill High School's boys basketball team has compiled a 242-51 record and won 26 tournament championships. This season, the team is 15-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation in a USA Today poll.
But three-fourths of those victories were achieved at the expense of out-of-area schools. This season, only five of Flint Hill's 22 regular-season games are against local schools. The rest are against central and southern Virginia and Baltimore-area schools.
The reason is simple: Lots of schools in surrounding northern Virginia won't play Flint Hill, which is located in Oakton. Because the private school requires transfer students who are deemed academically insufficient to repeat a grade -- and thus gain an additional year of eligibility -- the Northern Virginia Coaches Association voted not to schedule games against Flint Hill.
This year's team has four transfer students, but only one, junior all-America Dennis Scott, will be a fifth-year player.
"We are doing what is best for the kids here," said Flint Hill Coach Stewart Vetter. "Keeping them back is not my decision, anyway. In the 11 years I've been here, maybe 10 have repeated a year. But one year, we had three do that and the problem escalated. There's no question the extra year benefits the kids greatly.
"We are bona fide members of the Virginia High School League, and we have to abide by their rules and regulations. Hey, we can't be all bad. Of the 23 players who have graduated, 23 earned scholarships and either graduated, still are in college or one semester or so short of a degree."
Claudia Dodson, a programs supervisor for the VHSL, said that in the 10 years Flint Hill has been a member of the league, it has followed the guidelines set up for the high schools.
"We have not received any complaints regarding proselyting (recruiting) at Flint Hill, and all their kids comply with the age requirements of the VHSL," Dodson said. "But our rules don't require any schools to play one another except in football."
Students in some area public school jurisdictions are only eligible for varsity athletics for three years and must not have reached their 19th birthday before the first day of October. In private schools and some public schools -- including Northern Virginia -- students can play varsity sports in ninth grade, so they have four years of eligibility; the same age maximum applies.
"When we were just starting out, we used to play a couple of the Northern Virginia schools in tournaments," Vetter said. "We decided to improve our program and began to play the top teams in the area. Then we finally branched out and played national teams.
"In the past few years, we have tried to schedule Northern Virginia schools, but they won't even consider us," he said.
Red Jenkins, the coach at W.T. Woodson in Fairfax, said, "Coaches in the (Northern Virginia Coaches) association felt there was some recruiting done and made a recommendation to the Council of Principals to not schedule Flint Hill. A few kids left in the middle of their years and the coaches were very concerned about that. If those kids get that extra year, then it isn't fair to the rest of us.
"I do believe that extra year helps the kids academically and, of course, basketball-wise they might get a college scholarship they wouldn't have gotten otherwise. How do you argue with kids who benefit from the situation?"
Flint Hill's headmaster, Francis Casey, defended his school's policy by saying, "It's not just basketball players who are required to repeat grades, but anyone who does not qualify academically. I know we have been accused of recruiting, but it isn't true. Success breeds success, and I know some kids are going to try to enroll here because of basketball. I'm not afraid we are going to be flooded with transfer requests, because many of those students wouldn't be academically successful here and we would turn them down.
"Everyone pays tuition (approximately $3,500 per year), and there are no scholarships here or endowments. We get approximately 120 students each year via transfer; maybe one or two happen to be basketball players. The owner of the school, Glenn Rounsevell, and I have no intentions of making this a basketball school."
Flint Hill's problems with the Northern Virginia coaches began several years ago when such standout players as Carlos Yates (George Mason, then Italy), Kevin Sutton (James Madison), Darrick Simms (Virginia) and Gerald Jackson (George Washington) all transferred to Flint Hill from neighboring schools.
This year, Sam Jefferson, a 6-foot-10 junior at All Saints (which became an all-girls school) transferred to Flint Hill. Cameron Jackson, a junior at South Lakes in Reston last year, also transferred. But both students were academically sound and have not repeated a grade.
"I wanted to repeat, but they wouldn't allow it," said Jackson. "I can do the work, so I wasn't worried about that. I had a 3.3 GPA the first quarter. I just felt the extra year would help me."
Scott, the Falcons' 6-6 junior all-America, who would have attended Loudoun County, decided to enroll at Flint Hill in the ninth grade on the recommendation of a friend.
"I knew the academic work would be tough, but I felt I could handle it with the tutorial program they offer and the extra help," said Scott, who is averaging 22 points. "I've improved my grades and I know I'm a better student. Plus, I enjoy the extra exposure the school offers. We get to travel and see other parts of the country."
Nevertheless, Vetter said that in the future he will not accept any juniors or seniors who wish to transfer and must repeat a grade.
"We want to get away from that. We have already turned down 15 or 16 kids from transferring here," Vetter said. "People think we are a prep school with dorms. We don't have anything like that or offer scholarships. And we don't have any spots on the team, either. We do want to eliminate the stigma that this is a prep school and our kids are older than kids at the public schools. We have never had a player older than 18."
Gerald Jackson, an all-Met two years ago, was a transfer (from Washington-Lee) who repeated a grade at Flint Hill, and he says the experience helped him. After graduation, he went to Minnesota for one year on scholarship before transferring to GW this past summer.
"I can understand why some coaches might not want to schedule games because we were a year older and had that extra year of maturity," he said. "But had I not repeated my senior year, I would not be doing anything today. That year at Flint Hill forced me to develop study habits I didn't have at Washington-Lee and helped me get my act together academically."
Dale Bethel, his coach at Washington-Lee, said, "In Gerald's case, it was a good move for him to leave. At that time, he wasn't working to his potential academically, and I think in the back of his mind, he wanted to go. He had good (athletic) skills and at Flint Hill, the extra academic work and discipline would help him."
The repetition of grades is not unique to Flint Hill. Brian Carkhuff transferred from Flint Hill to St. Albans and had to repeat this, his junior year. John Patrick, a reserve at DeMatha, transferred to Sidwell Friends and repeated a grade. Both Carkhuff and Patrick are playing and doing well, both academically and athletically.
Meanwhile, Vetter spends much of his day on the phone looking for games. Flint Hill already has been invited to play in a dozen tournaments next year, of which it will pick two.
"I have to admit, I would much rather play in Hawaii than play in Oakton," Vetter said. "We don't really make any money off these games. The tournaments pay your expenses, and you get a financial guarantee. We have to raise our own money for our program.
"I plan to play our same national schedule, but I want to establish a relationship with area coaches and play around here. The kids would enjoy the rivalries. Everywhere we play, we are treated like royalty. We don't have a gym and have been nationally ranked four times.
"It's strange; right now we are the most nationally recognized team and the most locally scrutinized team."