John Marshall’s boys basketball team finished the season ranked No. 1 in the country, polishing its elite resume with a 91-34 victory in the state title game over Radford High.
But Radford coach Rick Cormany was pointed in his postgame comments, calling the loss “embarrassing” and lamenting that his team never had a chance.
On Wednesday, VHSL executive director Billy Haun said he is open to changing the rules governing high school sports in Virginia, which created the system where John Marshall, one of the Richmond area’s smallest schools, legally built a basketball powerhouse but could not play against larger schools that might have offered more competition.
Haun said potential changes “would take into account some of the concerns that we’ve heard about John Marshall playing in Class 2 for basketball.”
John Marshall plays in Class 2 and has an enrollment of 576 students, per the VHSL classification table. Schools in Class 6 have more than 2,000 students, whereas Class 1 schools max out around 450 students.
Schools are allowed to petition the VHSL to move to a different division. The catch is that there is currently no process for a singular sports program to appeal to move up. So if John Marshall wanted to compete for a Class 6 boys basketball title, all of its other teams would have to make the jump too.
“Now, if somebody wanted to bring forth a policy change on that one ... any school, any district or any region can bring forth a policy proposal to change any policy that we have on our book,” Haun said.
The size of John Marshall is not commensurate with its drawing power, given the rules within Richmond Public Schools, which offers open enrollment for high schools.
So anyone who lives within the city limits can chose to attend John Marshall even if they are zoned for one of the city’s other four public high schools: Thomas Jefferson, Armstrong, Huguenot or George Wythe. Hence, the Justices are essentially a Richmond city all-star team to begin with.
Open enrollment also makes it easier for players who move to the area to establish residency and eligibility in order to play for coach Ty White, lauded as the nation’s best this year.
The Justices do have some players who have moved to Richmond to compete for them, though they have also got plenty of home-grown talent like reigning All-Metro player of the year and NC State recruit Dennis Parker Jr.
In response to Cormany’s comments, VHSL executive director Billy Haun said “everyone is entitled to their own perspective.”
“That’s what Coach Cormany did, he shared his thoughts, his perspective on things,” Haun said. “It would be wrong of me to critique his thoughts.”
Two players who started for the Justices this year moved in from out-of-state and joined the team. Players moving in order to play for a desired coach or program is not against VHSL rules, and it is incredibly common across various sports, classifications and localities.
The Justices roster has plenty of homegrown talent as well. Parker Jr. and junior point guard Damon “Redd” Thompson Jr. are both starters and local products with roots in the Richmond community. Redd Thompson Sr. set receiving records at Virginia State, and Dennis Parker Sr. is a Jayem alumnus.
Haun said shifting the eligibility requirements could be on the table, but noted the potential repercussions. Some states require out-of-state transfer students to sit out for a year.
Instituting such a rule in Virginia could be difficult due to the number of military and government families that live in the state, Haun said.
He added that eligibility rules that have long been in place in Virginia could be reevaluated. For instance, incoming freshmen are currently able to enroll and establish eligibility in whatever school they so chose so long as the district accepts them, even if they do not live in that school’s zone.
“We could look at that, because we do have a lot of ninth grade students across the commonwealth who attend a high school other than the one in which they are zoned,” Haun said.
Haun added that, each year, he is required to do a state of the VHSL address and give a report to membership. He gave that report during the VHSL’s membership meeting on the Thursday prior to state basketball championship weekend, before Jayem and Radford had even played.
At the end of that address, Haun discussed “some long-term things that we as a state organization could take a look at,” namely classification alignment, state basketball tournament structure and district and region formatting.
Currently, the league’s alignment process is based solely on enrollment. But Haun proposed that other factors may need to be evaluated, something he said other states are doing right now. Among those factors could be socio-economic status, geography and competition.
In other words, could a school’s demographic makeup or geographical placement alter its classification? Or, if a school like John Marshall is so successful in a given classification, could a system be set up where points are awarded for success at state tournaments, leading to that school moving up classifications? Should the amount of transfers a school receives in a given year influence its classification?
“All things that we should take a look at as we move to the next alignment cycle,” Haun said.
Haun said the VHSL had 26 appeals in its last alignment cycle, more than ever, which prompted him to reevaluate how the league determines its alignment.
“To me, that’s a signal that you need to look at your system,” he said. “There shouldn’t be 26 schools that feel like they need to appeal to play in a different classification.”
The Virginia High School League’s executive committee denied Chesterfield County’s final appeal to create a district comprised of only Chesterfield schools for high school sports as it finalized the league’s four-year alignment plan that starts in 2023-24.
Cormany’s comments received regional attention after his team lost in the title game to the Justices.
“I’ve never had to compete against anything like this,” he said. “I’ve coached over 1,000 games. And I’ve gone into two games I didn’t think I had a chance to win [both against John Marshall]. That’s the honest to goodness truth. And that’s not sour grapes. This is an outstanding basketball program and basketball team.
“Do others need to change how they’re doing things? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
“We need to figure out something here. Because the purity of the high school game is leaving. This is going to set an example for others to do the same thing.”
John Marshall wins 91-34 in the state championship
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