Prep Schools Attract Talented Athletic Recruits

At every hockey game this year, you are guaranteed to see several middle school kids, most likely there with their fathers, watching to see why prep school hockey has such a good reputation. From the kid, you will likely hear, “Man, these kids are fast,” or “Boy, do they hit hard!” His father will surely mention that if the kid wants to play in college, then that will have to be him in a few years. This is because of the huge quality gap between public school sports and prep school sports, hockey in particular, that has become apparent in recent years, as everyone is looking to gain an edge. There are several reasons why this has become the case. The biggest reason prep school sports are better than public school sports, at least in part, is that post-graduate athletes can play in prep school leagues. The extra year of development, or even two in some cases, allows for much more skilled individuals who raise the speed and skill of the game several notches, attracting the highest skilled youngsters who want to hone their skills at the highest level. Still, the transition from public school to prep school is not easy. Mike Doherty, captain at Exeter this year, played two years at Lynnfield High before transferring to Exeter and repeating. “I didn’t play at all for the first half of my first season there, but once I got accustomed I played a lot more,” Doherty said. Now, especially in hockey, kids are repeating grades much earlier and hoping to be able to contribute at a prep school earlier and for longer, instead of only for one year after they graduate. However, as more and more of these kids leave the public school leagues, a quality level of play goes with them. Everyone who plays public school hockey realizes this is a problem, but the only thing to do is join the crowd. Tucker Mullin, a Senior at Andover High and one of the best players in his league, knows he will have to PG somewhere. He said, “It just seems like what you have to do if you want to keep playing in college.” Yet, there is one aspect of public school hockey that is much better than prep school, and that is the fans. When this year’s captain of the hockey team Joe Smith ’07 was asked what he enjoyed most about his one year at Woburn High, his immediate response was, “the fans, hands down.” The average number of fans at a typical PA hockey game is about 250, which is significantly less than the nearly 1000 at an average Andover High game. This difference is the same for most other sports, just with different numbers of fans. Though the main reason for this disparity is that at public school going to a game is nothing more than a social event, it makes a big difference to have the rink filled than to be playing in front of half empty bleachers. A certain amount of school pride is lost when playing in front of so few people, which is something a naysayer will point to when claiming that it is better to play for your hometown and have hometown pride. Fortunately for prep school athletes, some of those fans in attendance are collegiate scouts, which is practically unheard of at public school games. At a big game like Andover-Exeter, there may be as many as 50 scouts in attendance. So while the public school game will always remain better attended, it is the prep school that is reaping the true benefits.