Boy, this free agency thing is terrible. You no sooner get familiar with all the players on the home team than—poof!—there they are playing for the archrivals. How's a fan of high school sports to stay loyal? Yes, waves of itinerant teenagers, no longer content to play for the ol' neighborhood school, seduced by the siren's song of misguided adults, are changing the landscape of high school sports in a troubling way.
An investigation of the girls' basketball team at Narbonne High in Los Angeles, which finished last season ranked sixth nationally, found that Narbonne had used three players who had supplied false addresses to make it appear that they lived within the school's attendance area. To its credit the California Inter-scholastic Federation (CIF) revoked Narbonne's 1998 state title on Sept. 8.
That case was hardly the only one this summer involving shopping around by athletes and recruiting by high schools. Last month Miami Senior High lost its 1998 state boys' basketball title after it was learned that five of its players had lived with school coaches, employees or boosters, in violation of state rules. Of Miami High's 15 players, 14 had come from outside the school's district. "I'm seeing more attempts by coaches and other adults to attract high school athletes to specific programs," says Jack Hayes, the executive director of the CIF. That might have been the scenario at Trinity High in Garfield Heights, Ohio. Recently, after Pat Diulus was fired as girls' basketball coach and took a job at Regina High, a private school in nearby South Euclid, five players and two incoming freshmen withdrew from Trinity and enrolled at Regina.
Fishy transfers and illicit recruiting are nothing new to high school sports, but they are becoming alarmingly commonplace. And legal. The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), for example, allows students to transfer before the start of tire school year even if their only reason for transferring is sports. And that athlete can suit up immediately. "I'd like to say that kids aren't using [school choice] to transfer for athletic reasons," admits CHSAA associate commissioner Bill Reader, "but I'm not naive."
The recent decision by a U.S. district court in Tennessee that affirmed the right of high schools in that state to recruit athletes (SCORECARD, Aug. 10) will most likely encourage other lawsuits by the I-wanna-play-where-it's-best-for-me crowd. "If the door is forced open as far as coaches attempting to persuade kids to attend schools," warns Dave Fry, executive director of the Illinois High School Association, "then we have a very serious problem."