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Looking at Oak Hill prep

If you keep up with college athletic recruiting even a little bit, you are likely aware of the many "prep" schools scattered across the country to help big time athletes finish their high school programs of study and improve their SAT scores. The NCAA recently released a list of 16 such schools that would have their NCAA clearinghouse approval removed. The NCAA will further investigate the academic programs of 22 others during the next year.

Two of the more well-known "diploma mills" - as the NCAA calls them - are located in Virginia. Fork Union Military Academy and Oak Hill Academy are on the list of 22 that the NCAA will be investigating. On a recent trip to the mountains I did my own little investigation by driving one hour north of Boone, N.C., to a tiny little spot in the road called Mouth of Wilson, Va. This is the home of Oak Hill Academy.

I went to the trouble of making this trip purely out of curiosity. I had always heard of Oak Hill as being a high school basketball powerhouse that traveled nationwide to play as tough a schedule as possible. Many major college basketball players and even some future NBA stars have matriculated at Oak Hill.

I just wanted to see the place for myself. Was it a little Las Vegas like Cherokee, N.C., or more like Boneville? My findings? Compared to Mouth of Wilson, Va., Boneville is a little Las Vegas.

Oak Hill Academy's first rate website describes itself as a non-military, Baptist-affiliated boarding school for grades 8-12. The normal class size is 8-10 students. The only historical information that it gives is that it was founded in 1878, 13 years before James Naismith hung his first peach basket. The website offers no explanation for its location. My guess is that somebody or some group gave them their 400 mountain acres.

Further research told me that Oak Hill has around 130 students, and the annual tuition, room and board is $21,300. If my math is correct, that is a grand total of $2,769,000. I think I could operate a small boarding school after my retirement on that amount, especially with the help of a church and the alumni.

As for the academic side of Oak Hill, my brief drive through didn't tell me much. Their major buildings were a student center/cafeteria, a small dormitory, the gym and a chapel. I can tell you this. If you are at least a somewhat intelligent high school kid, you should do well there because there are no, I mean zero, zilch, distractions. One general store and a fairly modern looking post office are this hamlet's only attractions.

The big question is: how do so many major basketball prospects find this place?

Among the several current NBA players that played for Coach Steve Smith at Oak Hill are Jerry Stackhouse - Dallas Mavericks, Carmelo Anthony - Denver Nuggets, Ron Mercer - New Jersey Nets, Rajon Rando - Boston Celtics and Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks. Unbelievable!

No doubt some coach, somewhere, at some point in time recognized this school as a hideaway for kids who needed a straight and narrow environment in which to study, and play basketball. It is a place where a kid would have to go to too much trouble to get into trouble even if he wanted to. There couldn't be anything else to do except study and play ball.

I'll submit that the development of a "traveling" basketball program has given the school lots of publicity and enhanced its level of diversity. Alumni who have made it big in the NBA, or elsewhere, probably are generous with their tax-deductible gifts as well.

I'm not here to knock Oak Hill Academy or other schools like it. It is however somewhat of an enigma to me both athletically and academically. There are so many places of opportunity in the mainstream for student-athletes that I can't help but wonder what goes on inside the walls of a school this isolated. And who pays such a whopping bill? I mean it is a basketball juggernaut that was 38-0 last year. One can't help but wonder.

Web posted on Thursday, July 27, 2006

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