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Edited by Richard Demak
May 27, 1991
Cradle Wars
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May 27, 1991


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Cradle Wars

Coaches may get the O.K. to prey on preadolescents

The recruiting process is troubling enough when it involves college coaches courting high school athletes. Now, in an even more disturbing twist, a nine-member league of private high schools in the Washington, D.C., area called the Metro Conference is considering a rule that would allow its coaches to recruit athletes who are in junior high school.

The principals and athletic directors of the conference schools, which include perennial basketball power DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., will vote on the rule by the end of May, according to Metro commissioner J. Dallas Shirley. If, as expected, the proposal passes, coaches will have the go-ahead to approach eighth-graders, some of them as young as 13 years old, and attempt to convince them to come to their schools.

"[The conference] already has the reputation for this type of stuff, so I don't see where passing the new rule will hurt us," football coach John Ricca of St. John's College High, a Metro member, told The Washington Post last week. The rationale behind the proposed rule is that it's wiser to try to regulate the practice than to pretend that it doesn't exist. "At least it will be aboveboard now," says Ricca.

But when coaches aren't being aboveboard, the solution isn't necessarily to lower the board. It was probably inevitable that high-pressure recruiting would trickle down from high schools to junior highs, but school administrators should be fighting that trend, not sanctioning it. Every day, it seems, we're confronted with another story about avaricious recruiters exploiting and twisting the values of 17-and 18-year-olds, and now we're subjecting children who are four years younger to some of those same predatory practices.

Advocates of the Metro proposal say that the recruiting of an eighth-grader isn't nearly as intense as that of a high school junior or senior. Not yet. But if passed, the rule would encourage even fiercer competition for top junior high school athletes, which will inevitably lead to improper inducements and other abuses so familiar in the recruiting of older athletes.

The idea of coaches offering 13-year-olds, say, free skateboards may sound absurd, but then there was a time when the thought of the recruiting of children sounded absurd too.

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