A funny thing happened Saturday while I watched Lisbon celebrate a double-overtime field hockey playoff victory over North Yarmouth Academy.

I realized that we were all gathered at a private school. We were standing on expensive artificial turf. And the underprivileged, impoverished public school children had somehow eluded fate and advanced into the next round.

Such is the rhetoric we hear from people in the peanut gallery every year. Often they are defeated foes. They decry the existence of tuition schools in Maine Principals’ Association tournaments. They enumerate all the competitive advantages those schools supposedly wield.

And then with alarmingly few exceptions, a public school hoists the state championship trophy in almost every sanctioned activity, regardless of gender or season, and we all move on with our lives until somebody else’s bout with selective outrage.

It is the most irksome non-issue of our time, relative to scholastic sports. There are real emergencies in the world of student-athletics, after all. What to do about concussions in an era of bigger, stronger and faster participants is a pretty big one. The staggering shortage of officials and the revolving door of coaching vacancies, both closely connected to the insufferable behavior of spectators, are an immediate threat to the future of sports.

Oh, and kids can’t or won’t play anymore, a combined by-product of exorbitant costs, competing sources of entertainment and helicopter parenting. We might want to address these issues at some point.

Yet every year, without fail, I observe more hand-wringing and hear more grumbling about why private schools don’t have their own league. It’s the perfect imaginary controversy for a gotcha generation that is consistently more worried about others’ behavior than its own.

The primary reason the people who harp on this supposed problem harbor zero credibility is that they only speak up under one circumstance: When one of those schools consistently threatens to win something substantial.

There are a dozen or more Christian schools that play Class D basketball every winter without causing anybody heartburn. They show up for a Saturday morning quarterfinal game, smile and laugh a lot, take their 30-point beating and go home.

Nobody says boo, much in the same manner they didn’t care about Catherine McAuley girls’ hoop when they were winning one or two games a year for two decades. Then, heaven forbid, they developed a model program that became a destination for young people. Suddenly that made their mere existence uncomfortable for some of us.

Listen even half-heartedly and you will hear the same squawking about St. Dom’s baseball (hockey seems to get a pass these days, most likely because it hasn’t won a state title in 15 years) and Cheverus football. The common denominator with those two programs is that they’re blessed with hall of fame-caliber coaches whose attention to detail helps the schools overcome their disadvantages.

That’s right. I said “disadvantages.” Private schools generally don’t have an organized feeder system. The athletes funnel in from a 30-mile radius. For every one that chooses the school primarily for the purposes of showcasing his athletic skills, three or four are there for the academic experience and are simply fulfilling the schools’ expectation that every kid should play a sport.

Public school coaches have the luxury of meeting their future players in first or second grade and following them up through the ranks. With minimal effort, they may cajole the youth coaches to teach the same plays and use the same vocabulary the students will hear when they arrive in high school.

That’s culture, and when you take inventory of the true powerhouse programs in the state — let’s add Skowhegan field hockey, Mt. Blue skiing, Falmouth tennis and soccer, Waterville track, Lewiston boys’ soccer, tennis and cheerleading, Leavitt football, and heck, just about every program at Dirigo — it separates them. It is almost self-sustaining.

Private schools have to reinvent it every two years. Oh, but they can “recruit.”

Stop it.

You mean buying a 30-second TV spot or producing a half-page newspaper ad with cheesy, staged photos, inviting eighth-graders to an “open house?” That bothers you?

A, if your local high school were competitive in terms of academics, social opportunities and quality control, nothing else would be a threat; and B, the most aggressive recruiting I’ve seen in my day emanated from taxpayer-funded institutions.

Another thing separates champions such as Lisbon field hockey from their competition: They don’t feel threatened by NYA, or Winslow, or anybody else. They don’t sit around comparing their per capita income, their enrollment or the quality of their practice field to everyone else in their pod.

They just play. It’s a lesson many adults in our state would do well by taking to heart.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @oaksie72 or like his fan page at www.facebook.com/kalleoakes.sj.

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