About a week ago, the WCAC made a major announcement that the league would split the football teams into two divisions. The move, which was made to create a competitive balance between programs that emphasized football and those that didn’t, would pave the way for Paul VI, Bishop Ireton and Bishop O’Connell to return to the WCAC league after playing an independent schedule the past few years.
Lost in the news, however, was that the league would be adding The Heights to participate in the WCAC in every sport besides football beginning in the fall of 2017, although the school would not be eligible for the playoffs until 2018.
Considering the league is considered one of the most competitive in the country for high schools sports, why did the WCAC seek out such a relatively small school with almost no athletic history to speak of?
Well the answer is simple: They didn’t.
“The Heights sought us out and as the timing worked out it was possible to get them on board,” said WCAC commissioner Steve Colantuoni.
In fact, this is something The Heights has been preparing for internally the past three or four years.
“We decided that in order to make a push for membership in the WCAC, we needed to schedule more games with those schools to show we could compete,” said Heights athletic director Dan Lively. “In particular, we pushed hard in soccer, baseball, and lacrosse to play more games with WCAC schools in order to have a credible application with the league. Once Steve Colantuoni was made the commissioner last year, it seemed like the perfect time to start the process. He and I met last July and got the ball rolling. I think the league is pretty open to expanding, so the timing couldn’t have been better for us.”
One may wonder why The Heights didn’t look to join the IAC or MAC, at least initially, before making the jump to the WCAC.
“Our focus has been on the WCAC, and it has a lot to do with our closely aligned missions,” Lively added. “The WCAC’s mission statement talks about fostering the spiritual, academic, social, and athletic development of their students. Our mission statement is essentially the same, so we see this as a natural partnership with the other schools in the WCAC.
“Finally, I’d just note that our kids get more excited about playing WCAC teams than any other games. I think a lot has to do with the fact that they are friends with a ton of these kids, either through their home parish or from having attended Catholic grade school together. There’s always been a great atmosphere whenever we play these schools, and we wanted much more of that.”
Lively added that the school has raised the bar for their student-athletes each of the past few years in terms of schedule strength, and that they’ve responded well to the challenge.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the caliber of teams in the WCAC. I really believe it’s the best league in town and I can tell you that we are grateful for the opportunity as a school to come in and try to compete. I think anyone watching our sports teams over the past few years has seen a steady improvement in our level of competitiveness. With that said, entering the WCAC means the bar has been raised in a big way, and that’s the message that we are delivering to our students. But we see that as something that fits with our overall philosophy at the school. If we’re going to have an athletic program, we’re not going to just roll the ball out and have a good time. Just like we challenge our young men to be great students and men of great faith, we also want them to work every day to be the best they can in their athletic endeavors.”
Athletes from The Heights will have to work hard every day and then some, especially if they want to remain competitive on the basketball court. Former DeMatha standout Markelle Fultz went No. 1 overall in this year’s NBA Draft, and he joins about another half dozen former WCAC basketball players currently competing in the NBA. Considering The Heights lost last year to Good Counsel by 17, Landon by 28 and Georgetown Prep by 45, the school will need more than just young men of great faith, although prayers to a higher being wouldn’t be a bad idea before league games.
“I have such an enormous amount of respect for the history of WCAC basketball and I was very upfront with everyone in the league that basketball would need the most work from a competitiveness standpoint,” Lively said. “We had a couple of solid years recently, but we’ve struggled to maintain consistency. In the end, nothing I say will matter until we start performing at a higher level on the court.
“With that said, we have a Head Coach that I have incredible confidence in to take a long-term approach to developing a very competitive and consistent basketball program. We also have a number of younger students that are very much invested in the program and I think they are hungry for this opportunity.
“I’d also note that not being in a conference in the last few years has hurt us on the admissions front. A number of young men that really liked The Heights had a hard time with the idea of not playing in the WCAC. It’s the best league in the country and I think most every young basketball player in the area wants a shot at the best. So, I know we have a lot of work to do and I won’t even try to suggest that we’re going to be a top team, but I think with the right systems in place, you will see us become more competitive in the coming years.”
One factor that could be the hardest to overcome is tuition. In joining the WCAC, The Heights becomes the most expensive school in the WCAC -- by over $4,000 annually.
2017-2018 School Tuition
$26,665 – The Heights
$22,100 – Gonzaga
$21,840 – Good Counsel
$19,175 – St. John’s
$17,600 – DeMatha
$15,285 – O’Connell
$15,190 – McNamara
$15,090 – Bishop Ireton
$14,625 – Paul VI
$14,300 – St. Mary’s Ryken
With such a steep tuition bill, it makes sense for The Heights to offer athletic scholarships, especially in basketball, to help grow the program, right? Wrong.
“We will not offer any kind of athletic scholarships,” Lively said. “Our tuition model is similar to the other independent schools in the area. I would just note that while the sticker price is high, we have 48% of our current students on financial aid, with an average grant of $10,234. The grants are given to students solely based on need, and that will not change.”
With a student body of roughly 500 stretching from grades 3-12, The Heights will not field a football team, and Lively doesn’t know if they ever will.
“While I can’t predict the future, we currently don’t have plans to add a football program and we asked the WCAC to process our application and vote as if we would never have one.”
The Heights will join the WCAC this coming fall but will not become eligible for playoffs until the 2018-2019 school year. And according to Commissioner Colantuoni, don’t expect The Heights to be the last addition to the WCAC.
“I have not reached out to any other schools yet, but I am hoping that the news release may spark some interest in other schools joining our conference.”