Shopping for sports schools targeted
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
The state's interscholastic sports leagues have been asked to come up with more uniform policies to prevent schools from recruiting top athletes from competitors, as well as keeping student athletes and their parents from "shopping" for the best high school team to play for.
The request, by a Board of Education committee, is designed to prevent an overemphasis on athletics and athletic prowess and keep schools focused on academics, say educators.
League directors, however, said the interscholastic leagues generally have strong language in their by-laws preventing recruitment of athletes from other schools.
"All the league rules have put a damper on this action, otherwise it would be chaos," said Ken Yamase, executive director of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
"It has happened where students would jump from sport to sport and play three sports at three different schools," said Dwight Toyama, executive director of the O'ahu Interscholastic Association.
But the anti-recruiting policies aren't the same from league to league. And there are no universal sanctions for schools that do recruit.
Only the OIA calls for sanctions in its by-laws. The Big Island Interscholastic Federation, the Kaua'i Interscholastic Federation and the Maui Interscholastic League do not.
The renewed attention to this touchy subject has come partly out of a recent court case on Maui in which three families sued the DOE and the Maui Interscholastic League over a rule that prevented three student athletes from playing the same sports after they transferred schools.
On Maui, rules prohibit students from playing the same league sport for a year after transferring as a way of deterring schools from aggressively recruiting players.
The lawsuit is ongoing, said one of the fathers, David Kong, who added that his son transferred from a private school to a charter school for academic and financial reasons. After the transfer, his son was not allowed to play basketball and football.
Kong said he feels the leagues, which are private entities, have too much power and aren't being held accountable by the DOE.
"It's a terrible rule," Kong said. "They just say what's good for one is good for all and nobody is going to fight it. It takes time and money. And by the time you take them to court, the year is up."
Maui attorney Gerald Johnson, who argued the case for the parents, said everywhere he went he was congratulated for fighting the transfer rule.
"Almost everywhere I went people would say 'Hey, just let the kids play,' " Johnson said. "That was a very strong sentiment. ... It's not the NCAA. ... To me, it's just better to let the kids play."
League executive directors admit it's tough to prove athletes are transferring to schools because they've been recruited, even though recruiting is much less common these days because of "sit-out" rules that in some counties prevent students from playing for a year in the same league sport after a transfer.
But even the "sit-out" clauses aren't completely uniform.
The issue has been further complicated because the federal No Child Left Behind Act allows families to ask for geographic exceptions and transfer schools if the school their child attends is failing to meet the standards of the federal law.
However, athletes who receive a geographic exception to attend another school because of school choice under NCLB could be forced to sit out a year.
"When students exercise school choice (under NCLB rules), this is something we'll have to address because it impacts all schools," said assistant superintendent Kathy Kawaguchi of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support.
Under current policies of the OIA, for instance, a student who transfers from one school to another has to sit out a year before playing again in the same league sport he or she played at the first school. The athlete may, however, participate in other sports.
Geographic exceptions "are not supposed to be granted on athletic requests," said the OIA's Toyama.
Stephen Kim, executive director of the Maui Interscholastic League, said he believes that 5 percent of the transfers occur because of recruiting, while 95 percent involve the student deciding he or she wants to play at another school.
He told the committee about two sisters who switched schools partway through each year several years in a row as the seasons changed, playing one sport at one school and another sport at the other.
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.