On April 11, and after many months of consideration, Rector Mike Hirschfeld ’85 informed the Steering Committee of the Independent School League that St. Paul’s School has decided to withdraw its athletic program from ISL play.
While for 43 seasons St. Paul’s has enjoyed the competition, spirit of integrity, fair play, and camaraderie among the 16 member schools, the School chose to withdraw out of respect for league bylaws. Three merit-based scholarships offered to SPS students are in violation of an ISL bylaw prohibiting member schools from offering non-need-based financial aid. For this reason, and because of the School’s commitment to offering admission to students from many different backgrounds, St. Paul’s has elected to give up its ISL membership.
“There is no ambiguity concerning the fact that, since 1973, innumerable St. Paul’s School students have benefited from the lessons ISL competition has provided them,” Hirschfeld wrote to the ISL Steering Committee. “Out of respect for the league’s prohibition of merit-based financial aid…St. Paul’s School is withdrawing from the Independent School League.” The School’s withdrawal from the League will be effective in the 2017-18 school year. For the 2016-2017 school year, the School will maintain an ISL athletic schedule.
St. Paul’s athletes will compete, but not exclusively so, in what was established in the fall of 2015 as the Five Schools League. Member schools include Choate, Deerfield, Northfield Mount Hermon, Andover and Exeter.
With the addition of St. Paul’s, the group will become the “Six Schools League” (SSL). The exception to SSL participation will be the SPS football program, which Hirschfeld is hopeful will continue to compete as a non-league opponent with some of its ISL rivals as well as other New England independent schools.
“We remain committed to providing the very best competition for SPS athletes while being true to our mission,” said Hirschfeld.
The decisions to leave the ISL and to join the Five Schools League represent neither a change in the School’s admission policy nor a change to the mission of SPS athletics. For example, the School will not admit sixth formers or post graduate students.
St. Paul’s School currently offers three merit-based scholarships; the Cook for students from Montana, the Greene for students from Alabama, and the Ross for students from Northern New Jersey. The Cook, established in 1973 – the same year St. Paul’s joined the ISL – pre-dates the Greene and the Ross, and had been granted an exception to the league bylaw through more than four decades of competition. Cook scholars, like Greene and Ross scholars, are selected on the basis of character and academic accomplishment, not athletic achievement.
Director of Admission Scott Bohan ’94 pointed to the generosity of SPS families, in part through regional scholarships, as a primary reason the School is able to attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds.
“Creating an environment where students are exposed to others with different backgrounds and perspectives is important,” said Bohan. “The regional scholarships are recognition that bringing into our community students from less traditional boarding school markets is a key component to an SPS education. The scholarships have proven to be an important tool for the School, while also serving as an opportunity for remarkably talented and diverse students.”
Though St. Paul’s would not have made the decision to withdraw from the ISL if not in violation of the bylaw prohibiting merit-based scholarships, SPS Athletic Director Scott Heitmiller ’81 said there are some positives to the transition.
“While we are sad to leave the ISL, this will actually give our athletic teams the flexibility to create more parity in their schedules,” said Heitmiller. “We have wonderful relationships with the ISL schools, relationships we will maintain outside of athletics. But we are hopeful that these schools will continue to compete with SPS teams as non-league opponents into the future, ensuring that we maintain those competitive rivalries.”
“We have the utmost respect for the ISL and all of its member schools,” said Hirschfeld, “and we are sad to have to make this decision.
Hirschfeld said that it is his sincerest hope that the School will maintain those relationships into the future, and that SPS student-athletes might continue to benefit from competition with many – if not all – ISL schools through non-league play.