Over the years I have been inconsistent (and some would say “all over the place”) on the thorny issue of high school athletes playing a major sport away from their “home” school. But the recent urgings of the State School Board opening the door for any student to transfer to another school for sports leaves me baffled.
No more inconsistency. I say, “Play where you are planted! Period!”
I first approached the subject in this column some 25 years ago. A father saw his sophomore son as a budding Major League baseball star and enrolled him in an off-season baseball camp nominally conducted by a San Francisco Giant All-Star. When the boy returned the father was convinced that the current high school baseball coach would slow down the boy’s progress, so he attempted to register him at a neighboring school with a “more successful” program.
Eventually the boy had to “sit out” athletics for a brief time including loss of his starting position on the football team. The father saw it as a pure “parent right” issue.
The arguments haven’t changed much over the years, although there is quantifiable evidence of certain coaches “poaching” or “recruiting” students to leave their home schools for a better crack at success and college consideration. But the end result remains the same: If enough students leave, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and it becomes very difficult to re-energize struggling programs.
I “get” the parent’s rights argument. Every parent wants the best for his or her student. And it might not just be in athletics. Where I live, there are two high schools only a few miles apart. One has an excellent band program; the other schools program is not more than a listing in the yearbook. However, that school is regularly recognized for its top-flight drama department.
I honestly cannot object to a talented musician or drama student hopping those few miles over to the other school to receive his or her maximum benefit. The same would go for a school with a great math or science program.
But athletics is a different animal. The “team” is often a focal point for the entire school and sometimes the entire community. Also, athletics is more than wins and losses; along with maximizing skills, coaches attempt to weave teamwork and ambition into a healthy environment with students respecting and helping each other.
This month the State School Board seemed ready to remove all the restrictions and transfer policies. Through charter schools a minority group of parents are already choosing to move students away from the neighborhood schools, and conservative mistrust of “the system” emboldened board members to open high school athletics to the wild, wild west.
Most coaches objected; most educators objected; but the parent right’s alarm rings loudly in a hard-core conservative state. We haven’t heard the last of it.
But you have from me. Play where you are planted. And if mom or dad doesn’t like it, let them visit a mortgage banker and put their money where their mouth is by purchasing a home in another neighborhood.