FOUR YEARS AFTER choosing to attend Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), an all-boys' Catholic high school in the suburbs of New York City, Matt Simms has no regrets. Simms had been expected to follow his mother, Diana, and brother, Chris, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback, to the local public school, Ramapo High ( Franklin Lakes, N.J.), but the Louisville-bound senior wanted the bright lights of a big-time football program. "I've played against great teams on a regular basis," says Matt.
But Simms's choice of schools is part of a trend that is worrying some public educators. He's one of dozens of elite players--including Jimmy Clausen, the Oaks Christian ( Westlake Village, Calif.) QB headed to Notre Dame--who have been lured to private schools by scholarships, TV exposure and first-rate facilities, and who then spend their high school careers beating up on inferior public school teams. In three years as a starter, Simms, 17, has gone 28--3, losing only to Catholic schools; he is 14--0 against public schools. This year Don Bosco has played four public schools and won by a combined 165--7.
Bosco is within a 10-mile radius of two other all-boys' Catholic schools, Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.) and St. Joseph's Regional (Montvale, N.J.). Head-to-head against New Jersey's public schools, the three Catholic schools are a combined 7--2. With no restrictions on where they can pull their players from and plenty of money to work with, private schools have a huge recruiting advantage over public schools, which have relatively small budgets and only one district from which to draw talent.
Public school coaches are now pushing for change. On Oct. 20 the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's board of control passed a measure saying athletes who switch from a public to a private high school risk losing a year of eligibility. The measure--to be reviewed by the state board of education this winter--comes after the KHSAA voted last year to create separate playoffs for public and private schools but was rebuffed by the state, which asked for an alternative plan.
California and Illinois are weighing similar measures, and New Jersey, which separates public and private schools in the playoffs, may mandate separate regular-season schedules--all in the name of competitive balance. Strict rules may be necessary to create parity. Teaneck High coach Dennis Heck understands why top players often don't consider going to public schools like his. "You're a good player in town," he says. "Do you go to Bosco and play on TV--or to Bergen to play in Giants Stadium?"