Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
News Specialist Sammy Linebaugh reportingIn the last decade, some high school athletic programs have become strong, while others have lagged.
The shift in the balance of power in prep sports, coincides with the creation of an "open enrollment" policy that since 1990 has allowed students to attend the school of their choice.
Now, there is growing controversy over whether some schools and coaches take unfair advantage of open enrollment, even blatantly recruiting kids, like colleges and professional teams.
Ask the question, "Should a high school student be able to transfer schools for athletic reasons?", and you hear a myriad of opinions.
Whether its right or wrong, legal or illegal, one thing is clear -- it's happening across Utah.
And it's changing the landscape of prep sports.
George and Jan Curtis are always in the stands when their kids are playing. Their family photos are a patchwork quilt of school pride. Seven kids, all varsity athletes, at five different high schools.
For each to play at the program of their choice, mom and dad say carpools and shuttling are a small fee.
George and Jan Curtis/Parents: "ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT. FOR ALL KINDS OF REASONS IT WAS WORTH IT...ATHLETICS, FRIENDS..."
Megan Heriford's dream was to play varsity basketball.
For her parents, it was worth it to buy Megan this $95,000 dollar condominium, so she transfer from Mountain View High School, to Lehi. There she became the starting point guard.
Jan Heriford/Megan's Mother:"HONESTLY I'D DO IT AGAIN IN A MINUTE. IF YOU HAVE A CHILD THAT WANTS TO PLAY AND THEY'RE GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY, AND YOU'RE IN A SITUATION LIKE AT MOUNTAINVIEW THAT IS ABSOLUTELY PACKED WITH TALENT...WHY NOT?"
There are dozens of similar stories -- proving prep sports in Utah is less sandlot, more superleague. For many high school sports teams, it's survival of the fittest.
Kathy Clark/Skyline Principal - "WE HAVE A DISTRICT THAT SAYS MARKET YOUR SCHOOL. MARKET YOUR SCHOOL AND PUT ITS BEST FACE FORWARD TO TRY TO ATTRACT KIDS."
Skyline High School's sports programs have long benefited from Utah's open enrollment policy. It allows students to choose the high school that best suits them--regardless of address.
Roger Dupaix/Skyline Football Coach - "OUR FOOTBALL TEAM, ABOUT ONE THIRD OF OUR ROSTER COMES FROM OUTSIDE THE SKYLINE BOUNDARIES."
Technically, it's against the rules to transfer to a school for sports purposes -- although a student can enroll in a school in a different neighbhorhood for any reason.
It's also against the rules for coaches to "poach" players from other programs.
But the Utah High School Activiities Association admits more and more coaches, administrators and parents are skirting the restrictions...shopping, courting and recruiting student-athletes.
Mark Vanwagoner/UHSAA Attorney:"THE WILLINGNESS TO CUT CORNERS OR BE EVASIVE OR EVADE THE RULES TO WIN HAS COMPOUNDED."
West High football coach Don Holtry says he's on the losing end.
Don Holtry/West High School Coach - "WHEN I SAW 24 AND I SAW 11, I KNEW WE WERE GOING TO HAVE A ROUGH YEAR."
24 players on the J-V Varsity squad, 11 players on the sophomore team. That's how many kids showed up the first day of practice this past season, after the 28 year coaching veteran came out of retirement to rebuild the team.
Holtry did what any coach would do -- he hit the gym classes and hallways. He also talked with parents and looked at past rosters.
What he found was a disturbing player exodus to other programs.
Don Holtry/WHS: "I HAD A RECORD OF ABOUT 18 PLAYERS"
This week, Coach Holtry formally asked the Activities Association to investigate how those kids ended up at other schools and whether any were illegally recruited. Meanwhile, he's trying to hold on to the players he has.
Hinckley Vaisiagno/WHS Player: "TO LOOK ACROSS THE SIDELINE AND SEE YOUR FRIEND PLAYING FOR ANOTHER TEAM, IT FEELS WEIRD TO ME."
The Activities Association says it plans to investigate West High's allegations.
Tomorrow night we'll talk with one coach who says "Yes, I've talked with players outside my boundaries about my program" and get his perspective on recruiting.
That's tomorrow on Eyewitness News at 6:30 pm.
Also, in Monday's Deseret News you can read more about the impact of foreign students and private schools on Utah's prep sports scene.