The Fighting Irish will begin competing in the financial-aid division starting in 2019-20
By Dan McWilliams
Knoxville Catholic High School sports will begin competing in Division II starting with the 2019-20 school year.
The TSSAA Board of Control approved KCHS’s request for the move at its Jan. 11 meeting. Division II is the financial-aid division in which most private schools in the state compete. KCHS does not offer aid as a Division I member and may not be able to offer much after the move to Division II, school president Dickie Sompayrac said.
“Currently, families that have athletes that play a TSSAA sport on any level at KCHS (varsity, junior varsity, or freshman) cannot receive any financial aid,” he said. “This will be the case for 2018-19 as well. We do not have a plethora of funds available for tuition support for our move into Division II.”
Moving to Division II “will allow our diocese to provide need-based scholarships to our Catholic families with student athletes who also want to receive a Catholic education,” said Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, superintendent of Catholic Schools.
“Mr. Sompayrac has continually reviewed what is best for our families. For a long time it seemed that Division I was the best choice, as our students would not have to travel such distances to play sports. Yet over the past couple of years the TSSAA has continually changed its bylaws so that no athlete, whether freshman or varsity, could receive any form of need-based scholarship and still participate in sports,” Sister Mary Marta said.
“Many Catholic families want their children to have a faith-based education, yet not all families can afford tuition; however, with the TSSAA rules our athletic students who need financial assistance were being forced to choose between a Catholic education or playing in sports — at any level. Once we move to Division II, the need-based scholarship students who chose a faith-based education over sports will be able to play sports once again while attending a Catholic school,” she added.
Knoxville Catholic has done well in Division I, with state titles last year in football, girls tennis, and boys track and field, and runner-up finishes in boys basketball, volleyball, and boys cross country. That made KCHS an unwelcome guest at the sports table with other area D-I schools.
“We are the only private school in East Tennessee that is still competing in Division I,” Mr. Sompayrac said. “You combine that with the fact that we are having success, and that contributes to the feeling that we are not welcome in Division I.”
A move to Division II may mean the return of Webb and Notre Dame to the KCHS football schedule.
“We will have to wait and see how the Board of Control divides up the districts,” Mr. Sompayrac said. “There is a movement to have an I-75 conference for all sports that does not include football that would be Catholic, Webb, CAK, Grace Christian Academy, Notre Dame, Chattanooga Christian, Baylor, and McCallie. We would very much be in favor of this type of conference.”
KCHS has a current enrollment of 610