Those who sidestep rules shame the game

Not that the alarms haven’t gone off over and over, but the recent Little League World Series should be a wake-up call to all education and youth sports leaders.

Adults, television and commercialization have taken over the integrity of youth sports. Never was that more apparent than during the scandal that erupted during this year’s national 12-and-under baseball tournament. The star pitcher for the third-place team turned out to be 14 years told. Sports Illustrated discovered falsified birth certificates.

All the kids, opponents and teammates were cheated out of trust, fair play, honesty, free speech and opportunities. They were under 12 for only 11 years. And most of those years were spent preparing to enter their teens. The teens … the years every parent learns to be a champion of soon-to-be adults.

It’s the rhetoric that never ends and action that never begins that has allowed adults to shame the game.

Trafficking and recruiting of players to further develop teams or individual talents has always been considered a violation of one of youth athletics’ fundamental principles. In interscholastic sports, the rules have become only as effective as a school’s policies and how important adults consider those policies to be.

It’s the “It’s not my problem, but let’s study it” approach often taken in school and other sports that has produced the “Let’s live with it” attitude. The practice of “If it’s ignored long enough it will go away” hasn’t been in the best interest of the players.

And for parents and kids it does go away, silently. Adults expect silence and no tears over being cut from a sport, sitting on benches or disappearance after graduation. But mostly it goes away because adults and peers measure loyalty and sacrifice for the betterment of the team by silent acceptance of unethical efforts to win.

Wakeup calls are in high schools everywhere. It shouldn’t take Sports Illustrated to awaken us to the shames of the games.

It has become easy for illegal transfer students to find a place on high school teams and it’s getting easier. Sometimes it’s as simple as a handshake between player and coach. Frequently the shake-up occurs during out-of-season games and summer camps.

There are four basic profiles of a bona fide transfer:

  • A transfer necessitated by change of residence;

  • The legislated choice transfer for a better education;

  • Transfers to another school in that district in compliance with district policy (some districts allow transfers with no restrictions on eligibility), and;

  • A shift to another school in compliance with WIAA residence/transfer rules or having those rules waived due to “hardship” which has or will have a negative effect on the student’s pursuit of an education.

    Although they take many ingenious forms, the education-sports philosophy busters might be merged into these two:

    (1) A coach recruits and an administrator receives with disregard for the rules or

    (2) An ineligible domestic, foreign exchange, or international athlete replaces an eligible student.

    Number one: Recruiting can be traced back to students who transfer, especially talented athletes. Simply ask whether the student was induced to enroll. Attempting to recruit for athletic purposes is a violation. Rule 17.25.0 of the WIAA Handbook also states the member school shall be responsible for any violation committed by any person associated with the school.

    Berkshire School’s (Florida) entire boys and girls basketball teams were comprised of international students living in dorms on the campus. Berkshire School was expelled from membership of the Florida Association.

    Basketball is the primary sport affected by recruited transfer students. Athletic directors, principals and coaches must declare each player as meeting the eligibility standards and in so doing assure to their fellow member schools no player has been recruited.

    Number two: A foreign exchange student is on an education visa sponsored by the U.S. Immigration Service. Student travel from other countries to the United States is monitored and approved by the Council on Standards for International Education Travel. Choice of schools by the student or choice of students by the school are not allowed, according to policy.

    However, ESPN profiled a group of boys from Nigeria who signed a contract in Moscow, moved to Toronto, where they lived with a talent scout, then to the United States. Two journalists (John Erickson and Christine Vasconez of the Dayton Daily News) found an intricate system for players to use and people – including exchange program administrators, high school and college coaches, agents and scouts – to help them use it.

    One must be curious when four of the five starters on a high school basketball team are transfers. Or when former players say they helped encourage a player to transfer while at a summer camp. Or when a parent is quoted as saying her daughter received a scholarship to a private school.

    Obviously, adults shaming the game should be eliminated by those who desire to follow the rules. Deliberate attempts to break the rules should be reason enough for the league, district or WIAA to take the same action that was taken in Florida.

    And we know it’s not the recruiting that is wrong, it’s what kids learn is right and wrong. It only takes one to shame the game.

    Cliff Gillies, former executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, writes weekly during the school year for The Herald. His mailing address is 7500 U.S. Highway 101, South Bend, WA 98586. His e-mail address is

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