Unpopular Opinion Part 2: In Nebraska High School Volleyball, Wealth Equals Success
Well, yesterday was fun!
If you didn’t get a chance to read Part 1 on this series yesterday, I wrote about the need to change how private schools are classified in Nebraska when it comes to volleyball. You can read it for free HERE.
Despite the thoughts of some, this wasn’t an attack on private schools. It was the beginning of a look at how socioeconomics plays a role in the success of high school volleyball programs in the state. Yesterday we looked at private schools. Why? Because as the article pointed out, private school students generally come from wealthier families. And while there are a lot of things that go into success, there is significant data – not opinion, but hard facts – that back-up the claim that wealthier schools have a huge advantage in the sport of volleyball in our state.
Here is part of the article from yesterday that shows, beyond a shadow off a doubt, that private schools have been hugely successful in the sport this century in our state.
“In this century, 10 of the 38 teams to play for a Class A title has been a private school (26.4%). In Class B that number is 16 of 38 (42.1%) while in Class C-1 it is 30 of 38 (79.0%). In Class C-2 it is 17 of 38 (44.8%). In Class D-1 the numbers are 12 of 38 (31.6%) and in Class D-2 the breakdown is 2 of 38 (5.3%).”
There isn’t anyone in this state that can honestly say that private schools don’t have a huge advantage over a vast majority of public schools when it comes to volleyball because of the socioeconomics of it.
Now, here comes the part where I take on another elephant in the room. The wealthier a school district is (and this is generally suburban Omaha and suburban Lincoln schools), the more likely the school is to be successful as well. In fact, if you aren’t a private school or a suburban school in Nebraska, your chances at success at the highest level in Classes A, B and C1 are minuscule. Not only do private schools need to be classified differently, but so do the wealthy public school districts.
Again, this is not opinion. This is fact, backed-up by data. And it’s why the social and economic circumstances of a school district – and not its enrollment – should be how we are classifying – at a minimum – Class A and B schools for volleyball.
At this point, let me repeat a few things from yesterday just to cover myself.
There probably isn’t a more heated topic in high school sports in Nebraska right now. But, let me stop you right there and ask you to proceed with an open mind.
I am not pro-public schools or pro-private schools. I’m not anti-private schools or anti-suburban schools. My two adult daughters both graduated from the Millard Public Schools, which is the district we live in. I am also not singling out any specific kind of private school. Private schools can be religion based or they don’t have to be. I’m not singling any specific group out, rather including all into the phrase “private school.”
What I am for, however, is making high school sports the best possible experience and for conserving the integrity of it. What this series is meant to do is be a conversation starter about issues we all know exist, we all see, we all know to be true but refuse to talk about. Or, at least, talk about in a civil and open-minded way. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I think I have a good enough grasp on these topics to be able to start the conversation with hopes that people much smarter than me can come up with better solutions.
So, let’s have a rational conversation about the way we classify private schools and public schools right now in Nebraska and what might be – in my opinion – a better way to do it. Also know that this is part of a series of articles outlining changes that would be good for the long-term health of volleyball in Nebraska – again – in my opinion. How we classify private schools and wealthy school districts is a portion of that conversation. But, know this: it’s my strong belief that Nebraska needs to go back to a four-class system in all sports, except football (which is its own animal). That is at the foundation of all my thoughts on changing for the better.
Finally, please realize that when I reference the NSAA, I AM NOT talking about the people who work at the NSAA office. Those individuals do an amazing job and work within the confines of what the member schools agree upon. There is a legislative process (a couple, in fact) that allows member schools to enact changes and, in essence, operate the NSAA how they see fit while maintaining a strong and important relationship with the National Federation of High Schools.
And, most importantly, remember that this is a volleyball website. I’m speaking specifically about volleyball. I realize not everything that works for one sport would work for all. I get that. This is very much volleyball specific, but I think it can be applied (perhaps with some tweaks) to work with other sports as well.
OK, let’s talk about the unfair advantages wealthy school districts have in this state when it comes to high school volleyball. I’m not going to go over the things I mentioned yesterday that outline what makes volleyball – and becoming successful at it – so expensive. If you’re reading this, you probably get it already.
Let’s start with looking at Class A during this century. Starting with the 2000-01 school year and going through the 2018-19 school year, there have been 19 state tournaments (one per year). Over that time, here is a breakdown on where the state-championship match participants have come from on a school districts/private schools basis.
1.) Papillion-LaVista School District – 13
2.) Private schools – 10
3.) Millard School District & Bellevue School District – 4 each
5.) Lincoln Public Schools & Grand Island – 2 each
7.) North Platte, Omaha Public Schools & Columbus – 1 each
Now, let’s rank the districts from Class A based on median household income within that school district based on U.S. Census data from last year. Obviously, data for private schools doesn’t exist in this format, but as the data showed yesterday (and we can all conclude) private schools are populated from wealthier families – likely on par with the wealthiest suburbs in that area. To save you the hassle of looking back up in the story, I’ve included the number of state-championship match appearances behind the dollar figure.
Private Schools – dollar figure unknown – (10)
1.) Millard School District – $77,310 – (4)
2.) Papillion-LaVista School District – $66,656 – (13)
3.) Bellevue Public Schools – $59,080 – (4)
4.) Omaha Westside – $55,373 – (0)
5.) Lincoln Public Schools – $48,591 – (2)
6.) Kearney – $46,183 – (0)
7.) Fremont – $46.012 – (0)
8.) Columbus – $45,600 – (1)
9.) North Platte – $43,258 – (1)
10.) Grand Island – $43,801 – (2)
11.) Norfolk – $43,239 – (0)
12.) Omaha Public Schools – $43,214 – (1)
The gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in Class A continues to get wider as well. If you look at just this past decade (2010-current), only two of the 18 state-championship match teams in Class A has been from outside the three wealthiest school districts/private schools.
In other words, 88.9% of the teams that have played for a Class A state title this decade have either been a private school or from the three wealthiest districts in Class A.
Maybe it’s just a Class A thing, though, right? Wrong. I want to hammer home the point that throughout the state’s three largest classes, success in volleyball is determined by the wealth of the district.
So, let’s look at Class B during this century. Starting with the 2000-01 school year and going through the 2018-19 school year, there have been 19 state tournaments (one per year). Over that time, here is a breakdown on where the state-championship match participants have come from school districts/private schools perspective.
1.) Private Schools – 16
2.) Grand Island Northwest – 8
3.) Elkhorn Public Schools – 5
4.) Norris – 3
5.) Gretna & Aurora – 2
7.) Beatrice – 1
8.) Ogallala – 1
Right here it is worth pointing out that since in 2004, 30 of the 30 teams that have competed for a Class B title have either been a private school or come from the Elkhorn, Grand Island Northwest, Gretna and Norris school districts. Let that sink in for a minute. Not since 2003 (Beatrice) has a public school from outside of those four districts reached the Class B final.
Now, where do you suppose those districts rank in terms of wealth compared to the rest of Class B? In case you don’t see where this is going, here is how it breaks down, again, according to official U.S. Census data. To save you the hassle of looking back up in the story, I’ve included the number of state-championship match appearances behind the dollar figure.
Private Schools – data not available – (16)
1.) Elkhorn – $92,834 – (5)
2.) Gretna – $81,113 (2)
3.) Bennington – $74,659 (0)
4.) Waverly – $73,299 (0)
5.) Norris – $71,042 (3)
6.) Blair – $60,538 (0)
7.) Seward – $56,944 (0)
8.) Plattsmouth – $56,891 (0)
9.) Crete – $50,580 (0)
10.) Aurora – $49,100 (2)
11.) Sidney – $47,284 (0)
12.) York – $43,948 (0)
13.) Grand Island Northwest – $43,258 (8)
14.) Holdrege – $42,359 (0)
15.) Ralston – $41,829 (0)
16.) Hastings – $41,640 (0)
17.) Nebraska City – $41,471 (0)
18.) Beatrice – $39,628 (1)
Grand Island Northwest had an incredible run, appearing in each Class B final from 2007-2012 and returned again in 2016. The school is basically the lone outlier in the “wealth equals success” hypothesis.
But, much like Class A, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has really widened in recent years with 11 of the past 12 state-final participants over the past six seasons having either been a private school or coming form one of the five wealthiest school districts.
This is where I should go into a similar look at Class C1, but I will save all of us the time because we know what’s up in that class. As a reminder, 30 of the 38 teams to play for a C1 title this century have been private schools. Those other eight schools are Wahoo (2x), Malcolm with Hayley Densberger and Jaela Zimmerman (1x), Ord (2x), Minden (2x) and Logan View (1x) when it had someone named Jordan Larson.
No matter how you slice it or dice it, every piece of data shows that success in high school volleyball in Nebraska’s three largest classes is directly correlated to the financial status of the communities of the athletes playing the sport.
There is certainly nothing wrong with being in a wealthy school district or having personal wealth that allows you to live in those districts or to send your children to private schools. And some families – and the athletes – make huge sacrifices financially so that their children can attend those schools. Again, this is not intended to make those districts or families or athletes feel bad about their success. That’s not the point at all.
The intention is to, again, be willing to have an open-minded, civil, fact-based discussion about what truly drives success of high school volleyball in Nebraska and that classifying teams in volleyball based solely on enrollment is not only wrong, but it’s a social and economic injustice that needs fixed.
All successful athletic organizations in the world understand the importance of a balanced playing field. And, let me explain what I mean about balanced. Balance doesn’t mean taking away from one and giving to the other. Not at all. What it means is to put equals on the opposite side of each other.
As an example, in club volleyball it is widely understood why there are different levels of competition. The best of the teams play in the higher divisions and as the talent and quality of teams goes down, they play in lower divisions. Like vs. like. And this is understood as being the right way to do things. You would never dream of forcing teams to play in a division way above its capabilities.
Yet, in high school volleyball in Nebraska, we insist on judging teams based on enrollment size of their school instead of all the other actual dynamics that go into determining where a team should be place. Why is that?
Why are we OK right now, in June, knowing 100% that none of the following teams will be competing for the Class A title in volleyball this fall – or, if we’re being frank – never competing for one? I will even go as far as saying there is a zero percent chance any of these teams make the Class A state tournament this fall or in the foreseeable future under the current format.
- Omaha Central
- Omaha South
- Lincoln High
- Omaha Burke
- Omaha Westside
- Omaha Bryan
- Omaha North
- Omaha Benson
- Omaha Northwest
- Bellevue East
That’s 37.5% of Class A this fall that I will tell you – and you know it’s true as well – can’t win a Class A state title and won’t be in the state tournament. Maybe it’s really cold of me to say that, but you know it’s true and nobody wants to talk about it. I’m willing to be “the bad guy” that says these things we don’t want to talk about or we want to avoid. I’m OK with that.
You know what I’m not OK with, though? Watching volleyball programs die. Watching student athletes be forced into situations where they can’t learn to love the game and be in a position where there is competitive balance. Don’t take a look at that list of 12 teams and tell me socioeconomics isn’t the biggest factor in volleyball.
Better yet, come with me and sit with me at a volleyball match where Omaha Bryan has to play a team from a wealthy suburb and loses 25-2, 25-1 and look at the frustration on the faces of players on both sides of the net and tell me how setting kids and programs up for failure is acceptable.
We need to – and should – change how we classify teams for volleyball in this state. We need to create a level playing field. No, that’s not socialist athletics. That’s smart athletics. Like vs. like. Just like club volleyball. You would never put a 16-4 team into a 16 Open tournament. So why do we allow it in high school?
Tomorrow, I write about how classification should look in Nebraska as it pertains to volleyball moving forward. In the meantime, get a jump start on tomorrow’s article by familiarizing yourself with the term “relegation” because it’s a key word in the story. But, yesterday and today, I really had to hammer home the most important part – that wealth equals success in high school volleyball in Nebraska.