With the settlement of a lawsuit that will allow Liberty Christian Academy to join the Virginia High School League – primarily so the private school athletic powerhouse can join other public schools in their conferences – other private schools could also seek to become members of the VHSL. That could include Roanoke Catholic School, which was approached the day after the settlement of the LCA case by the small school Pioneer League, a public school conference that includes Craig County and Parry McCluer in Rockbridge County.
Roanoke Catholic School principal and head of school Patrick Patterson says with schedules already in place for the next scholastic year any decision to join a public school league is at least a year away. In the meantime coaches and administrators at Roanoke Catholic will consider the pros and cons this upcoming year. “I think it really speaks to the collegiality that has existed [between private and public schools] for decades,” said Patterson.
Reduced travel expenses is one plus noted Patterson – not having to travel as far to find other private schools in their conference. “It’s going to save our school tens of thousands of dollars a year in travel expenses – we’re having to engage schools that are hundreds of miles away from us.” Those expenses were about $50,000 last year for fuel, buses and personnel said Patterson, who worked in public schools like William Byrd before taking the top job at the private school in downtown Roanoke.
Roanoke Catholic already plays public schools in a variety of sports noted Patterson, who adds that, “we’ve had a great working relationship with our local public schools for several years. We play [them] in football and volleyball and wrestling – other sports also.”
Patterson also likes the fact that such a move would allow student-athletes at Catholic to get back on the field of play with some of the neighbors they’ve grown up with, competing with and against in recreation leagues. It’s also about facing the best competition possible ,noted Patterson.
Roanoke Catholic also competes against public schools in sports like golf and cross-country. “This would open up the door for us to engage with even more [public] schools.” The school pulls students in from all over the greater Roanoke Valley – including Franklin and Bedford Counties.
One stumbling block now to playing public school teams: because Roanoke Catholic is not in the VHSL, wins against the Celtics don’t count for points in their district standings – and athletes can get hurt in the process while playing a game that won’t help their cause. If a game against Catholic counted because they joined the VHSL, perhaps as a member of the Pioneer League as early as a year from now – “all of those doors have been opened,” noted Patterson.
“I’m so thankful for the VHSL for making this ruling – and I’m thanking to LCA for carrying the torch to make it happen.” (North Cross School is reportedly not interested at this time in joining a public school league as a VHSL member.)
It’s not only sports either – the VHSL has competition in pursuits like speech, drama and forensics. Joining a public school league opens up a whole range of possibilities, added Patterson. “We really want to give our kids the same competitive advantage that the public schools enjoy,” said Patterson, “and we want to be able to do it at a more local level.”