Policies Sought to Keep Athletes True to School
High school coaches see their players do it every year. Hoping to be noticed by college recruiters, student athletes switch schools to play on the most competitive teams.
The transfers fill some campuses with powerhouse players, weakening other schools. They also affect more than campus athletics, some coaches say, disrupting everything from parent participation to standardized test scores.
In the past, coaches or principals haven’t been able to do much to stop the transfers. But several school districts are considering policies that would make it more difficult for students to switch for athletic reasons.
The Marmonte League, which includes the Conejo Valley, Moorpark, Las Virgenes and Simi Valley school districts, is discussing a possible policy change that would take effect in the fall. Under the new rules, students who transfer without moving would be ineligible for varsity sports for one year.
“It’s really sending a message saying that we do not condone kids switching schools on a whim,” said Jim Wilber, athletic director at Royal High School in Simi Valley. “They should be playing for their home schools.”
Wilber said parents need to realize that college recruiters will notice good athletes no matter what school they attend. “Coaches are not stupid. They are going to find the best people.”
The Mission League, which consists of several private schools in Los Angeles County, approved a similar rule in November. And the Pacific View League, which includes the five campuses in the Oxnard Union High School District, enacted an even tougher policy two years ago, when it decided to make transfer students ineligible from playing any sports for one year.
Oxnard’s policy has drawn mixed reviews. Some coaches have praised it as a way to encourage students to stay at their assigned schools, prevent parents from shopping around and discourage coaches from recruiting players. Other coaches and parents have criticized it for unfairly penalizing students and limiting parents’ ability to decide what school their children should attend.
“It’s about school choice,” said Dan McGee, whose son couldn’t play baseball for a year after switching schools. “It is . . . an attempt to subvert the parents’ choice.”
The McGees live in Camarillo, less than five miles from Camarillo High School. But because of the way boundary lines are drawn, Douglas McGee was assigned to Rio Mesa High School, about 12 miles from his home.
McGee thought Rio Mesa was not as safe as Camarillo High School, and was too far to drive his son every day. So he applied for a transfer. The request was granted, but Douglas was told that he couldn’t play on any sports team during his freshman year if he went to Camarillo.
McGee appealed, but district officials held firm. So last year Douglas sat on the sidelines and watched his friends play baseball. “I thought it was pretty dumb to make a rule like that, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” said 16-year-old Douglas. “I thought it was unfair.”
Now a sophomore, Douglas is finally trying out for the high school baseball team. He isn’t nervous, just eager to play. His father continues to campaign against the transfer rule.
Oxnard Union High School District officials said they wanted to maintain a level playing field among the schools and to preserve racial and ethnic balances.
“Transfers were a problem here,” said Brian FitzGerald, athletic director at Rio Mesa High School. “A significant number of our kids were transferring to Camarillo High School.”
FitzGerald said he believes the transfers hurt the school in several ways because many athletes are good students and have involved parents.
Since the policy change, the number of transfers within the Oxnard district has dropped. In the 1997-98 school year, there were 343 transfers among the five high schools, with 100 from Rio Mesa alone. Two years later, there were 152 transfers, 62 of those leaving Rio Mesa.
“Parents who are thinking about shopping their kids as far as athletics go are actually thinking twice,” said Ralph Gonzales, director of instructional support services for the district.
Daniel Bednar, who lives within the Rio Mesa attendance area, wanted to transfer to Camarillo High School because that is where all his childhood friends were going. He applied for a transfer, but it was denied because Camarillo High was full.
Though he was disappointed at first about having to go to Rio Mesa, he was glad he didn’t have to give up football and basketball for a year. “I grew up my whole life playing sports,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit out.”
His father, Tim Bednar, who coaches basketball at Moorpark High School, said students and parents should have the right to choose their schools without facing consequences. And if large numbers of students are transferring out of a certain school, that campus should improve its academic and athletic programs, he said.
California passed legislation in 1993 that allowed parents to select their children’s schools. The next year, athletes could attend any school within a district regardless of residence. But they had to abide by these rules: They could only transfer once during high school, the transfer had to be completed by the 15th day of the new school year and acceptance couldn’t be based on athletic performance.
The proposed policy in the Marmonte League would take the state rules a step further. Simi Valley, Las Virgenes and Moorpark school boards have approved proclamations on the new transfer policy, saying they support the idea and want to move forward with developing a plan. The Conejo Valley school board will receive a presentation and vote on the idea in January.
Supporters say the new policy would prevent students from getting pushed off their teams by athletes from outside the area. But others say that it won’t stop the transfers. Students would still be able to switch schools and play on freshmen, sophomore or junior varsity teams.
Coaches also fear that parents and students will just find a way around the restriction such as by falsifying their addresses.
“Parents get better and better at pulling the wool over the eyes of the administrators,” said Wilber at Royal High School. “Some try whatever ways and means they can to get their kids into a school.”
Other coaches and administrators worry that some students could be unfairly punished if the policy is black and white. Lou Lichtl, athletic director at Westlake High School, said each decision should be considered on an individual basis. “In some cases it fits, and in some cases it doesn’t,” he said.
“I can’t support it 100% of the time, because they are kids, not ideas.”