Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
News Specialist Sammy Linebaugh reportingThe Utah High School Activities Association is considering new regulations to prevent students from transferring from one high school to another, for purposes of joining a sports team.
The practice is technically prohibited, but an investigation by Eyewitness News and the Deseret News, uncovered numerous examples of it happening.
Right now, the buck stops with principals. They choose whether to approve or deny a transfer. But that may be changing, in part because influence from coaches and parents. Plus, the pressure to build a winning program is intense, leading some to skirt the rules.
Talk to most any high school athlete and rumors abound about illegal recruiting; coaches who dangle starting positions, tutors, possible scholarships, even a lift to school and a place to live if the student will consider switching teams.
And then there are stories of more subtle courting; a compliment, maybe a summer camp invitation.
Alvin Utai/West High Football Player: "HE SAID TO COME TO THE CAMP, LIKE THE SPEED CAMP AND STUFF LIKE THAT."
Philip Leota/West High Football Player: "HE LIKED MY SIZE. LIKE HE SAID I HAD A GOOD SIZE FOR HIS LINE."
Philip and Alvin are freshman in West High's football program, and say they were approached at a recent scouting activity by Woods Cross Head Coach Alema Tao, who had been invited to help the boys earn their physical fitness merit badge.
Alema Tao/Woodscross Coach: "ONE OF THE BOYS MENTIONED HEY, I LIKE YOUR SIZE, YOU'D BE PERFECT ON MY LINE. OH YEAH, SURE, YEAH, YOU'D BE GREAT. YOU'RE GONNA TAKE ME TO COURT OVER SOMETHING LIKE THAT? I THINK ANY COACH WOULD MAKE COMMENTS LIKE THAT. WAS IT A SERIOUS OVERTURE? NO. I KNOW THE RULES."
The rules state coaches or anyone else associated with a school should not place "undue influence" on a player to transfer outside his or her boundaries.
And likewise, school principals who suspect a transfer request is motivated by sports are expected to refer the case to the Utah High School Activities Association.
But faced with the pressure to build winning sports programs, the UHSAA says too many administrators are looking the other way.
Mark Vanwagoner/UHSAA Attorney: "IT HAPPENS ENOUGH THAT WE HAVE DECIDED TO TAKE OUT OF THE HANDS OF PRINCIPALS, SO THEY WILL NOT HAVE THIS PRESSURE THE INITIAL QUESTION OF WHETHER THE TRANSFER IS FOR ATHLETIC REASONS OR NOT."
For Coach Tao, the guiding force for change should be the best interest of the students, not parity among programs.
Alema Tao/Woodscross Coach: "WE'VE LOST KIDS TO VIEWMONT, WE'VE LOTS KIDS TO BOUNTIFUL, WE'VE LOST KIDS TO EAST. ARE YOU UPSET ABOUT THAT? NO. I'M NOT UPSET BECAUSE THE BOTTOM LINE IS THOSE KIDS DON'T WANT TO BE HERE AND THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO GO WHERE THEY WANT TO GO."
Mike Fraser/UHSAA Executive Committee: "WHAT WE'RE GETTING TO NOW IS PLAY WHERE YOU CAN WIN INSTEAD OF PLAY WHERE YOU LIVE."
Win where you live, find success across the street. That, most agree, is the ideal for Utah's prep athletes and the high school programs that rely on their participation.
Don Holtry/WHS Football Coach: "I'D LIKE TO SEE IT GO BACK TO WEST HIGH KIDS PLAY FOR WEST, EAST HIGH KIDS PLAY FOR EAST, HIGHLAND PLAYS FOR HIGHLAND..."
As a policy, the activities association says open enrollment works. It's enforcing the rules, and that has become a full court battle.
The activities association is considering creating an independent board that will review each transfer request.
We told you last night how one family purchased a condominium in one school's boundaries so their daughter could transfer there. Under the proposed changes, that no longer would get the green light.
There is also an interesting phenomenon we're seeing called reverse recruiting.
More and more coaches are now going to junior high's and little league games to, in effect, recruit their own players -- before someone else gets to them.
In tomorrow's Deseret News you can read more from coaches and see what some are suggesting as an alternative to open enrollment.