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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Victory remains elusive in prep sports transfer issue

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The subject of recruiting used to be a running joke among Hillsborough County’s prep football coaches.

They weren’t talking about the talent that college programs like Florida, Florida State and USF stockpiled when five-star high school seniors made their college choices.

No, this was about how many top players the county’s best prep teams could poach over the summer from other local programs.

Every so often a school would get its knuckles rapped by the Florida High School Athletic Association for recruiting, but mostly the practice went unchecked until Armwood High had to forfeit its 2010 state football championship over residency issues.

Because of the resulting backlash, transfer students now have to satisfy multiple regulations before they can play sports at their new school.

Among other things, they might have to go before an appeals board, and an assistant principal has to check the address of a transfer student to make sure they’re really living there.

And it’s not enough to say you were living with dad but now live with mom (who just happens to live in a district with a better program).

You think that stopped the controversy?

Nah.

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The school board is still trying to balance common-sense regulations on transfers with more stringent state rules.

At one point during a meeting on the subject this week, board member Candy Olson grumped, “I think we’ve spent an awful lot of time on a very small number of kids.”

I wouldn’t say the number at most area high schools is “very” small, but I get her point. While sports can be an important part of school life, it’s not the primary reason students are there.

“If I had my way, we wouldn’t have any exceptions (for transfers),” Chairwoman Carol Kurdell said. “Our job is to educate students. We are not a farm team for colleges.”

It is a fact, though, that athletics provides a route for some students to go to college. Parents of talented players can face great temptation if they attend a school with a bad coach or team.

“It’s crazy,” board member April Griffin said. “This has been the bane of my existence lately. I agree with Candy that we are spending a lot of time on this, but we have to get it right.”

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Players have been moving from one high school to another to play sports since the days of leather helmets, and administrators often looked the other way.

The FHSAA didn’t have the staff or money to investigate all the complaints, so things just rolled along.

The stakes are higher now, though.

Elite prep teams can be rewarded with appearances on national or statewide television. Top college programs spend a lot of time recruiting here. Players (and their parents) will do what it takes to be seen.

The increased scrutiny appears to have slowed the exodus of players from one prep team to another, but would anyone declare victory in the transfer game just yet?

If you ask the school board, the answer is no.

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