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OPINION: Holy War football state final is wholly unholy

Jeff GoodmanThis weekend, for the first time in OSAA history, Jesuit and Central Catholic will face off in a state championship football game.

It’ll be a meeting of the Portland metro area’s two major private schools, a battle that many affectionately call the Holy War.

But there’s something wholly unholy about it.

Although Jesuit and Central Catholic are fully sanctioned members of the state’s association for high school activities, do they really compete within the framework that exists for their athletic counterparts? Do they abide by the same rules? Do they have to?

This year, Jesuit defeated Canby in the first Class 6A semifinal Nov. 30 at Jeld-Wen Field. Hours later, Central Catholic scored 83 points — not a typo — to thrash previously undefeated Tigard in the other semifinal.

Those outcomes alone don’t prove anything. And yet it’s hard not to wonder whether there’s a level playing field.

Canby Cougars senior A.J. Schlatter, for one, wonders.

“Not shocking the 2 biggest PRIVATE schools are in the state championship,” he tweeted. “I guess that’s what recruiting gets you.

“And I mean no disrespect to them.

“It just doesn’t seem fair.”

To be fair, Saturday’s game will be just the second large-school football final featuring a private school since the OSAA created six athletic classes in 2006.

Jesuit will make an appearance in the finals for the first time since 2009. The Crusaders have not won it all since capturing back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.

Even more surprising, perhaps, is that Central Catholic will compete in the title game for the first time since in 60 years — indeed, for the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency. The Rams have only won two state titles in football in school history.

Of course, those are incomplete portraits of two consistently prominent powerhouses.

As of the end of the last school year, Jesuit had won a combined 119 team state championships across 23 athletic activities since 1967-68. In each of the last 22 years, the Crusaders have added at least one state-title trophy to their crowded cases. Over the last nine years, they’ve won at least five championships each year.

Against Canby, Jesuit’s football team was appearing in the state semifinals for the ninth time in 10 years.

Central Catholic, too, has a rich athletic history (no pun intended). Its boys cross-country program has claimed seven of the last 11 state titles. Its volleyball program, which capped a three-peat in 2011, has appeared in four of the last five championship matches. Its girls basketball team snagged the 6A crown last year. Its boys squad lost in the finals.

On the football field, the Rams have reached the quarterfinals or beyond on 13 occasions, including in each of the last three seasons.

But it’s not just that Jesuit and Central Catholic have enjoyed frequent success in their athletic pursuits. It’s how.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JEFF GOODMAN - The Jesuit football team has reached the state semifinals nine times in 10 seasons. Crusaders running back Chase Morrison tries to break a tackle Nov. 30 at Jeld-Wen Field against Canby.Canby and other public high schools compete with students from their own districts. The private schools welcome kids from all over the place. The student populations are assembled in fundamentally different ways.

“The farm boys of Canby (against) the university of Jesuit,” Schlatter tweeted before the semifinals.

Imagine, for a moment, that the University of Oregon can enroll athletes from throughout the state (you don’t have to imagine — it can already do that). Then imagine that Oregon State is only allowed to compete with athletes from Corvallis. Then imagine the schools competing in the same athletic classification for the same state titles.

It doesn’t make much sense.

Of course, the enrollment figures for Jesuit and Central Catholic make the schools’ sporting achievements even more curious. Jesuit has fewer than 1,300 students. Central Catholic has fewer than 900.

But without the restrictions that keep most athletes at their home schools, Jesuit and Central Catholic can lure top prospects to their juggernaut programs year after year — with or without recruiting.

It’s not the fault of parents if they want to provide their children with private-school education.

It’s not the fault of athletes if they want to compete at institutions that have the money and resources to help them achieve their goals.

It’s not even the fault of the private schools and their coaches if they want to capitalize on their unique positions to attract all-star talent to their rosters.

But these are not developments that should be ignored by the OSAA, an organization whose stated mission is to guarantee “equitable competition” for Oregon high school students.

While the OSAA puts ample time and effort into creating leagues and postseason formats that aim to provide athletic opportunities for as many students as possible, it hasn’t taken any substantive action to curb the unchecked power of Oregon’s large private schools.

It should be noted, of course, that the member schools of the OSAA control the rules that govern the association. So it’s up to them to rally for changes.

Perhaps Saturday’s state championship game between Jesuit and Central Catholic will inspire them to make such a push. Maybe the state’s public schools will eventually advocate for putting private schools in separate leagues, a change that has already occurred for prep athletics in other states.

Better yet, give them a class to themselves. Call it 7A. Jesuit and Central Catholic can battle in the state finals for all eternity. And it won’t have to come at everyone else’s expense.

Jeff Goodman is sports editor of the Canby Herald.

Follow Jeff Goodman on Twitter.