“This proposal is formulating what everyone is saying, but putting it in writing. … We know this rule isn’t going to be totally adopted, but you need a starting point,opposed to just throwing out ideas. Let’s put something on paper.” -- Amy Scheuneman, the athletic director at North Hills High School
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi acknowledges the league seems to be hearing more complaints about how athletes who transfer schools for alleged athletic reasons are having a huge effect on sports across the state. But now the organization that includes many high school athletic directors in Pennsylvania is also speaking up about the issue — and offering a solution.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association (PSADA) has drafted a new student-athlete transfer rule that it will present to the PIAA at a PIAA board of directors meeting May 24. PSADA believes the PIAA’s student-athlete rule is ambiguous, enforced differently by districts across the state and needs to be overhauled.
For an organization as large as PSADA to ask for a change in the rule and to formally come up with a new proposal is groundbreaking territory. In short, PSADA’s proposed transfer rule makes a student-athlete automatically ineligible for a year of varsity sports if they transfer after the start of ninth grade. The transfer student can compete in junior varsity or ninth-grade sports. However, the student can be eligible for varsity sports if they meet one of five exceptions for a transfer.
PSADA came up with the new rule at its March convention.
“This proposal was presented to the delegate assembly [of PSADA] and it was supported by the membership,” said Amy Scheuneman, the athletic director at North Hills High School who has been selected to present the new rule to the PIAA. “This proposal is formulating what everyone is saying, but putting it in writing. … We know this rule isn’t going to be totally adopted, but you need a starting point, opposed to just throwing out ideas. Let’s put something on paper.”
Scheuneman is a member of the WPIAL board of directors and WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said the league backs a new transfer rule. Mike Allison, principal of Hopewell High School and also a WPIAL board member, said, “I think PSADA wants to put the ball in the PIAA court and say, ‘hey, you need to make a decision.’ For an organization like PSADA to speak out, that’s a pretty powerful voice that needs to be listened to.”
PSADA’s rule points out 12 reasons why the PIAA transfer rule is ineffective. Currently, a transfer student is eligible if there is a “principal to principal signoff” and athletic intent is not suspected or proven. PSADA’s new rule takes the “principal to principal signoff” out and makes all transfer students ineligible for varsity sports for a year unless they meet one of these five exceptions:
• A bona fide move by parents. “Bona fide move” does not mean renting an apartment in a school district and keeping a residence in the other district.
• A legal change of custody by a court of common pleas.
• Closure of school.
• Hardship case, such as bullying or harassment, at the previous school.
• A transfer to a residential public school. In other words, if a student attends a private or parochial school and transfers to the public school where the student resides, that student is eligible for varsity sports. However, a public school student who transfers to a private or parochial school is not eligible for a year.
“There is the nature of the public vs. private school issue and this rule will not fix that, nor are we going to present it as fixing that,” said Scheuneman. “But everyone sees the transfer rule differently from school to school, district to district and state to state. It’s the uneven application that makes people upset.”
District 12 (Philadelphia Public and Catholic League) has started to dominate PIAA basketball, winning 50 percent of the championships the past three years and 29 since 2009. Complaints come because of the many players who transfer schools in Phildelphia without penalty, and because the Catholic and charter schools have no geographical boundaries to draw students. But it’s not just the Philadelphia schools where transfer students are having huge effects. Kennedy Catholic in Sharon won a second consecutive PIAA Class A boys basketball title this season and one of its top players — 6-foot-7 Marcin Wiszonirsky — came from Poland this year. Another player (Clay O’Dell) transferred from Mathews High in Ohio.
Bethlehem Catholic won the PIAA girls 4A title and two of its starters came from Allentown Central Catholic and Philipsburg, N.J.
In football, Micah Parsons, ranked one of the top juniors in the country, transferred from Central Dauphin to Harrisburg late in the regular season, was declared eligible by District 3 and helped Harrisburg win a PIAA title.
Bob Tonkin is the secretary/treasurer and football chairman of District 9. He came up with ideas to push six classifications in PIAA sports two years ago and is currently working on proposals to change the PIAA’s transfer rule, and believes PSADA’s idea, and others, should be welcomed by the PIAA.
“The transfers are getting out of control. It’s getting worse and worse and no one wants to take the bull by the horns and do anything,” said Tonkin. “Everybody thinks you can wave a magic wand and things will be fixed. But it’s not that easy. One of the problems is there are some people on the PIAA board who don’t want to see changes and their area is one of the biggest violators of the rule.”
Now the question is will the PIAA listen and react to PSADA’s proposal? Often times, the PIAA board of directors will move on recommendations made by an educational group, such as the Pennsylvania Principals Association or PSADA.
In March, the PIAA created an 11-member competition committee and Lombardi said the committee’s function is to “examine the competitive balance and competitive fairness of everything. They will look at, not only the transfer rule, but the way we classify teams and the classification parameters. The board is aware that in Indiana, success is a factor in classifications. You get so many points based on the success of your team and you might move up or down in classification based on that.”
Lombardi said the PIAA won’t even consider separating public and private/parochial schools “unless the state legislature wants it and I don’t think that’s water the legislature or we want to get into.”
Lombardi hasn’t seen PSADA’s proposed transfer rule, but said it will most likely be examined and considered by the board in May. Tonkin wondered if the PIAA’s competition committee was just “window dressing” for issues or if the PIAA is serious about a change.
“I don’t know if the complaints we hear are as much about the transfer rule as the competitive fairness issue,” said Lombardi. “Because this competition committee has been established, everything is on the table for discussion. If PSADA has done a good job in putting together something that is not narrow in scope, then it needs to have a dialogue and be considered. Even if it is narrow, there might be some points to make the transfer rule better.”
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @mwhiteburgh
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