City Section Trying to Head Off Unethical Transfers

With one decisive, history-changing vote, the City Section is expected to join the Southern Section this week in approving a rule that is designed to reverse the disturbing trend of free agency in high school athletics.

After a year of debate and consultations, the Interscholastic Athletic Committee will vote Monday on a proposed rule that would make students who transfer schools without moving ineligible for varsity sports competition for one year. The rule would go into effect this fall.

The Southern Section approved a similar rule last year.

There is little doubt the rule will pass. Already, associations representing principals, assistant principals and athletic directors have endorsed the rule. They control 18 of the 29 votes, meaning the only suspense is how overwhelming the final vote will be in favor of the rule.

It has come to this because the premise of open enrollment, in which parents have the option of sending their children to any school they want for academic reasons, has been abused by coaches, parents and students for sports reasons.

Administrators, fed up with continually having to decide who's manipulating the rules, welcome a disincentive to transfer.

"It won't prevent everything, but it's a start," Athletic Director Rick Prizant of Lake Balboa Birmingham said.

Added Fairfax Principal Heather Daims: "There's a sense of frustration that kids are ending up at schools specifically for athletic reasons. We want to encourage some integrity in the process."

City coaches have been divided on the new rule, with those who benefit from transfers against it while others insist the system needs to be fixed.

"You'll find many coaches across the sports spectrum that would have reservations [with the new rule], but I feel every coach believes something has to happen," said Doi Johnson, football coach at Jefferson and president of the Football Coaches Assn.

Forcing students to sit out a year for transferring without moving could prevent some of the abuses in high school basketball, where players continually switch schools because of the false belief they will improve their scholarship possibilities.

The truth is, if they are good enough, they'll be spotted wherever they play. However, that's not the message heard from assistant coaches who go into neighborhoods and gymnasiums across the Southland, enticing students to transfer with the promises of fancy shoes, exposure and winning.

Derrick Taylor, boys' basketball coach at Woodland Hills Taft, admits he hopes the rule doesn't pass because his program has benefited from transfers. Taft has more open enrollment slots than any other school in the San Fernando Valley.

"We have an advantage," Taylor said. "If a kid wants to go to Taft after his freshman year, he can."

But Taylor said the new rule will help stop the transfer movement.

"It's a good thing if it controls all the illegal stuff going on," he said. "It cuts [transfers] big time when you require people to move. It's easier to monitor than this free-for-all we're in."

Of course, there will be students hurt by the new rule, especially those who want to make a legitimate transfer, whether for academic, social or family reasons, without moving. However, they could still apply for a hardship waiver to gain immediate athletic eligibility.

And parents with the financial means will continue to move just so their son or daughter can play for the team they want. Others will try to transfer by using false addresses or changing guardianship in split families.

It means coaches will still be facing ethical dilemmas concerning loyalty and integrity. Just look at what's going on at Westlake Village Westlake.

Every season since 1997, the school's starting quarterback has been a transfer or has attended Westlake on a special permit.

Two years ago, the Marmonte League implemented one of the most stringent transfer rules in the Southern Section-- if a student transfers without moving, he sits out one year -- but parents continue to bypass the rule by simply moving into a school's attendance area. Last year, Westlake quarterback Erik Vose was a transfer from West Hills Chaminade who moved a couple of blocks to gain entrance.

This year, the starting quarterback from Newbury Park, Rudy Carpenter, has transferred to Westlake by moving with his father and is trying to gain eligibility.

Parents of quarterbacks already in the Westlake program have complained to school administrators, asking legitimate questions about loyalty. Football Coach Jim Benkert, who vigorously tried to prevent Carpenter's transfer, could be put in the middle of an emotional dispute if Carpenter becomes eligible.

The movement of athletes has left neighborhood kids with two options: Stay and try to beat out a transfer for playing time or move on.

Matt Kaplan, a Claremont basketball player, was a starter and team captain on a 24-1 freshman team. By his senior year, after nine transfers had come through the program, he had lost his starting job until winning it back for the final three games.

Because of his good grades, Kaplan plans to attend Oberlin College, but what did his experience in basketball teach him?

"Regardless of the transfers, the open enrollment and the cheating in high school athletics, those who uphold character, integrity and loyalty really do finish first in the end," he said in an e-mail.

"I continued to do my homework and in the end all those transfers who thought they would be college recruits couldn't pass the SAT."

High school sports are not about serving as a feeder system for college and professional teams. They're about giving students an opportunity to compete and learn lessons through sports.

Some will develop into scholarship candidates and even professionals, but the vast majority just want a fair chance to participate, make friends and enjoy their high school experience.

To do nothing about transfers would reward those who have figured out how to manipulate the system.

The new rule won't stop cheating, but it will make it harder to cheat and will send a powerful message that the "Pursuing Victory With Honor" campaign, adopted by the City Section three years ago, is being taken seriously.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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