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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

High School Transfers

I've written about redshirting your own kids in high school, and it's one of the posts that drew the most comments and continues to draw comments to this day. This article, from yesterday's USA Today, addresses kids who transfer from one high school to another in the hope of finding the right program. Again, there are ethical issues across the board.

For example, if you're well off enough to do so, you can always send your kid to private school (or parochial school) for whatever reason you choose. Presumably, you're looking at the best fit for your child in all areas, and not just sports. But let's face it, there are kids who go to private schools or boarding schools for a single year where they have two goals -- to play a certain position and to get better prepared for college. I recall talking to an Ivy football assistant coach a few years back about a friend's son, who played high school ball in the midwest. The friend was looking for his son to go to a boarding school for a post-graduate year after high school, in order for the boy to get used to living away from home and to draw notice from some colleges for his athletic prowess. The Ivy assistant, a very good man, said for the dad to look at a certain prep school, because they had a need for players at a certain position (the position which the kid played). It turned out that the kid went straight to a huge college where he doesn't even play intramurals, but the network is there for you to place your kid if you have the wherewithal to do so.

That's perhaps one of the simplest cases, especially if money is not an object, and I think it's safe to say that there aren't serious ethical challenges there for the family (or even for the school). Yes, certain schools may skew their values and place an outsized emphasis on sports, but unless they're diploma mills or take kids who cannot do the work (and that does go on), they aren't necessarily being unethical. (Put differently, you'd have to peel several layers off this onion to determine whether there are ethical issues, and in the case of my friend, there weren't -- his son could have used the post-graduate year).

But what if money is an issue and you don't have the money to send your child to that private school (and some are $25,000 a year)? What do you do then? Suppose you have a kid who's a great passer in a school district where the HS coach likes to run the ball the way Woody Hayes did at Ohio State in the 60's and 70's? Do you keep him there or do you find a district with a more balanced offense? Suppose there's a nearby HS hoops coach who has worked very well with big men, and your son is 6'9" and has a chance to be special? Do you stay in your district or move -- and for purposes of argument let's say that the academics at the schools are comparable?

Is there a difference between a) the whole family moving and b) sending your kid to live with a relative? Is that difference as pronounced today, when the nuclear family has suffered considerable erosion as it might have been 35 years ago, where single-parent families were not as prevalent? And, remember, there are cases where families relocate because of work considerations only to leave behind a rising high school senior, who might live with her best friend's family in order to enjoy senior year and not to have to adjust to a new group of kids all over again. Finally, there are companies who move people around a lot and the military, which moves people around frequently too. Does it make a difference whether the incoming kid is a good ballplayer or not? Where should the transfer rules apply -- after all, people have the right to move, and they move their houses all the time.

I have thrown a bunch of questions at you, and, no, I'm not talking about the grade mills that the New York Times exposed earlier this year, either. I'm talking about transfer rules within public school districts and how and when transfers are legitimate versus wrong. Sometimes the lines aren't so bright and the moral distinctions so easy. Read the linked article and the comments of the Florida QB Tim Tebow. Is he right or not, and how far would you go for your kid?

I had heard in my area of parents playing residency games so that they could enroll their kids in a HS with a particularly good football program. They did not move, but they rented or bought apartments in the school district to establish residency so that junior could play football, even if they didn't move. That's dishonest to me. Those parents did not want to participate in their son's high school's community any further than the football program, because they did not commit to living in that district. To me, it was unethical and the coach and district shouldn't have permitted it. What type of lesson does that teach the kids? Had the parents moved their house within that district and lived in the residency that they leased or purchased, then that would have been fine, regardless of the motives. Of course, I would hope that academics and other extracurriculars played a part in the decision too, but those considerations don't -- and must not -- trump a family's right to live where it so pleases.

There was a good series of articles in my local paper about the efforts that parents put into kids' sports programs. The article talked with various parents who had differing levels of involvement in their children's programs, and it tried to assess why people spent the time they did on the programs. In this particular article, the consensus was pretty clear -- for the love of the game. One dad said that his daughter simply loved to play her sport, but that he never expected anything out of it in terms of an athletic scholarship. As it turns out, she plays for a Division II school in Pennsylvania, where she got grants worth $1,500 a year toward her education (and I'm not sure whether that was based on her athletic prowess or her family's financial statements).

Yes, we do want our daughters to be the next Mia Hamm and our sons to be the next Joakim Noah if at all possible. We love our children, and we'd do anything for them. But I'll still question whether all dads and moms are motivated the way the dad whose sentiments I paraphrased above. Is it just about the love of the game, and, if so, whose love? Hopefully the kids don't feel dragooned into playing the games, and I hope that they don't burn out on them by the time they're sixteen. I attended a girls' softball tournament in my area last summer, a big deal where college coaches from all over the country attended to get a look at the elite AAU teams. What struck me was the level of commitment of parents in communities around the country, not only in terms of the uniforms and equipment, but also in terms of the designer trailers that haul a team's gear and the RVs that some people drive to these tournaments. I read where some of the girls can play as many as 80 games in a summer.

For the love of the game, indeed. You can't play that intense a summer schedule and not love it, and, if you don't, have a serious talk with your parents. If you're a parent, be honest with yourself the way a coach is honest with kids about the ability to convert a set piece, hit a three or throw the slant-in pass. Does your child love it, or is he or she afraid that you'll be crestfallen if he tells you that he'd rather go fishing in the mountains or become a performance artist? The reckoning might hurt in the short-term, but I believe it would hurt a lot more in the longer-term development of your child (and your relationship with her or him) if you sense a communications gap and do nothing to fill the void. Step in , show the leadership a parent should, and ask the hard question. Yes, it's hard to get teenagers to open up, but it's worth a shot.

And, who knows, you might have a kid who's more passionate about the game than you thought. Or, you have a kid who's tired of a Motel 6 and Denny's routine for yet another summer, who has peaked mentally and physically in this particular sport, and who needs another outlet.

Remember that while athletics can teach valuable life lessons if taught and coached properly, 99.999+% of the kids won't become the next Mia Hamm or Joakim Noah. Most will learn to love a game that becomes a valuable hobby when they get older. Some will leverage their commitment to a sport to get into college, and some will play at the college level. But as the NCAA ads state, most of their student-athletes do go on to be professionals -- at something other than the sport they play. So, it may be the case that learning teamwork, sportsmanship, setting goals, the value of preparation and the need to keep your head in the midst of keen competition are what parents should shoot for when they encourage their kids to get involved in intense programs inside or outside school. If it turns out that you tap into talents you didn't know existed and your daughter can pitch a softball that disappears from sight and your son can run down a lacrosse field while cradling the ball with great dexterity, terrific.

Just make sure, in any case, your involvement -- as opposed to your child's -- is for all the right reasons. You'll be able to tell by undertaking one simple exercise -- read your child's face. If she's happy in her own skin, you'll know you're doing your job. If she has a constant look on her face that she'd rather be somewhere -- or someone -- else, then you know that you have some work to do.

So back to the basic premise -- to transfer or not to transfer? Your kid had better be very good to prompt a decision like this. Tim Tebow is that good.

Most kids, though, are not.

I had a great, great aunt who was our family's matriarch when I was a little boy. She was from the old country, and she had many cousins. They would come visit her from all over the East Coast, and they would come with great tales of the exploits of their family members. She had this advice for all of them: "Be careful how much you brag about your children. People might meet them."

And that's probably the hardest advice for a parent to heed.

When should you push? How do you know? How do you refrain and not have regrets?

No one said it's easy.

And remember that while Michael Jordan was cut from his high school hoops team as a tenth grader, there was something inside Michael Jordan that no parent could coach, teach, spend money on to develop -- the God-given talent of an incredible will to win and to pursue his goal with a great sense of purpose. Regardless of talent or love or coaching, if your child doesn't have that intensity, he's not becoming the next superstar in any sport.

And that doesn't mean that he's not a great kid, can't become a neurosurgeon, a rocket scientist, a trial lawyer or a television personality. What it means is that on the ball field, he's like most people.

And there's no shame in that.


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...



In the middle of your exposition, you have a gem of wisdom that every parent - whether the parent of an athlete or not - needs to assimilate:

If she's happy in her own skin, you'll know you're doing your job. If she has a constant look on her face that she'd rather be somewhere -- or someone -- else, then you know that you have some work to do.

That's really important stuff you have there. Well said...

11:09 PM  

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