Guest Post By: Will Chambers
Cincinnati Profile's feature sports columnist
A week and a half ago I was given the privilege to call the 2012 Kentucky State Football Championships in Bowling Green, KY. It was the sixth year in which the Commonwealth crowned six state champions after decades of honoring only four. One of which I was proud to take part of as a wide receiver on the Highlands Bluebirds 1996 3A state championship team.
For years almost everyone that keeps a watchful eye on Kentucky high school athletics has at most levied a complaint and at the very least offered an opinion on the KHSAA and the handling of their terrain. Before 2007 it was a public vs. private school debate, which arguably led to the six-class system the state adopted. Now it’s the playoffs, a watered-down version of its predecessor that is the problem according to skeptics.
The simple fact is that public schools are now winning championships at a higher clip, which has appeased one debate only to stoke the latter one. Participation is up across the board because of the pervasive manner in which the playoff system is arranged. And because the talent level has spread more thinly throughout the classes, we have the same schools winning state titles year after year. If this trend continues I believe it to be very possible schools may leave the KHSAA and form their own independent union in order to ascertain better competition. The KHSAA developed a six-class system in order to quell a jaded percentage of the state that felt they could not compete against schools that offered more to local area talent, and to allow inadequate programs the opportunity to play for a state championship. And because of this they may lose the best programs in Kentucky.
It is time for schools, their programs and their fans to put up or shut up. Get better or get worse. The prior by working hard and building a foundation that sets a standard. Demand excellence by not appeasing mediocrity. Do not expect or accept the road to a championship to be made easier for you by outside sources. Championships should be won on merit and luck. And by luck I mean by its definition from an old Highlands football coach, by preparation meeting opportunity.
Now I can only speak to the virtues of the program in which I was a part of, the one I know the best, Highlands. A program that has won the state championship every year since the adoption of the six-class system. And a public school.
Now Highlands is not a mere beneficiary of a diluted class system. They won the four titles in the four years they played in 5A with the two in 4A as I stated earlier. Before that they dominated class 3A, going 5-2 in state championship games in the ten seasons from 1995 to 2004 not to mention decades of success unmatched in Kentucky. The reason is simple; Dale Mueller installed a will in his teams that you were there to do one thing and one thing only, to win a state championship. Because that’s what we do, that’s who we are. It’s why he was there and it’s why we were there. It defines the Highlands football program.
Now ask yourself this: are they saying this in the meeting room at Dixie? I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. And that is what separates Highlands, Trinity, Mayfield, and St. Xavier to name a few from everyone else in Kentucky. By the time their students are sophomores they are ready to play for a state title.
Now I do not want to come across as a person who wants to keep the little guy down. I do want more schools to be competitive and I understand schools do have an advantage over others in particular areas. I want to see schools like Scott County, Simon Kenton and Central who have built and continue to strive to higher levels of achievement. But I cannot believe you can legislate out of competitive inferiority. You have to build. You start from the ground up and make it happen for your team. It shouldn't come as a shock that a former teammate of mine has done just that, and has turned around three Northern Kentucky programs into area powers inside the last seven years. He understands what it takes.
You cannot accept mediocrity or flat-out deficiency if you want Kentucky to be more competitive. There were 220 KHSAA member schools with football teams in 2012. 191 of them made the playoffs. What does it say to the 29 football teams (just 13%) that didn't make the playoffs? Especially when 27 teams did so with only 2 wins or less. Two schools, Phelps and Clinton County made the post-season with 0-10 records each. They lost in the first round by a combined 116-0. In fact class 5A won for most competitive class in the first round with teams winning by only a 28-point average margin. In 1A it was 44 points.
Yes public schools are winning more, particularly in Ft. Thomas with Highlands and in Louisville with Central, but at cost? The Bluebirds have won all six titles since the expansion, Central and Trinity has won five each. So in three classes three schools have won sixteen of the eighteen championships. What’s to say they don’t jump ship and play a regional championship with neighboring states or even against each other? Who knows? But with each season and each championship staying in the same place we may get closer.