Two minutes into the water polo Central Coast Section championship this season, Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Jack Vort catches the ball on the wing and attacks. He sees his teammate, sophomore Luke Johnston, in the distance, lobs up a pass and Johnston shoots and scores, tying the game.
Sacred Heart Prep went on to beat Bellarmine 9-7 and take home the CCS crown.
Vort said he has been playing water polo for a decade. While Vort is a Palo Alto resident and is supposed to go to Paly, Vort said he made the decision to transfer from Greene Middle School after sixth grade to pursue his water polo career, even though it that he would have to repeat a grade.
“I knew that if I wanted to pursue water polo, (Sacred Heart Prep is) where I wanted to go,” Vort said.
However, Vort’s decision to pursue his sport at a private school is not unique. Across the Peninsula, many students choose to attend private schools instead of their local public school to further their athletic careers, according to Vort.
Every year, the West Catholic Athletic League, one of the top leagues in the Bay Area, receives athletes who want to play their sport at a level they feel like their local public school cannot offer, according to Vort. The WCAL, featuring schools like Bellarmine, Archbishop Mitty, Saint Franics and Sacred Heart Prep, has teams dominating in almost every single sport.
The WCAL has produced dozens of professional athletes in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and Olympics, including the likes of Junipero Serra alumni Tom Brady and Barry Bonds, and Mitty alum Aaron Gordon.
The WCAL generally, is consistently better than the public schools they compete against. For starters, private schools have a clear advantage over public schools in one aspect —boundaries. Unlike public schools, private schools can take non-local students, which substantially increases their pool of talented athletes.
This allows private schools to build programs in a way that public schools cannot. The better the program, the more people who are willing to commute to school to be a part of that program.
Bellarmine junior Colin Peattie made the decision to go to Bellarmine after going to a Fisher Middle School in Los Gatos, with his cross country pursuits significantly influencing his decision.
“Running definitely was a huge factor for me,” Peattie said. “(Bellarmine) has a really good, proven team, so I wanted to come here so I could be a part of it.”
Private schools also appeal to students who want to compete in their sport at the next level, according to Peattie who said running at Bellarmine may give him an opportunity to run in college.
“The level of coaching that Bellarmine has puts me in the position to be successful enough to earn a scholarship,” Peattie said.
The emphasis on sports at private schools also sets them apart from public schools. Many private schools take sports more seriously and may believe sports are worth more than they are considered to be at public schools according to Physical Education teacher Peter Diepenbrock, who is also the former Paly boys basketball coach.
“Private schools, generally speaking, value success in athletics more than public schools,” Diepenbrock said.
Schools that value athletic success will draw more committed athletes who take the sport more seriously, according to Diepenbrock.
For example, the only day off that the Bellarmine boys basketball team got over winter break was Christmas itself. At Paly, the boys basketball team had three days off.
“The commitment at Bellarmine is like a job basically,” said Enow Akem, a junior on Bellarmine’s basketball team.
This commitment is what creates success for teams. Therefore, it is no secret why Bellarmine is one of the highest-ranking teams in the Bay Area and recently beat the number one ranked team in CCS, Serra, by a whopping 51 points on Jan 15.
Private schools set their athletes up for success due to the commitment they demand from their players, and therefore it is no coincidence why they continue to dominate year in, year out, according to Akem.
“[SHP] has put me into a winning program,” Vort says. “With great coaches and players who help me get better.”