by Hollis Lewis
With the school year ending, a hot topic amongst local sports enthusiasts is HB 2820, which allows West Virginia high school student athletes a one-time transfer to a high school of their choice without losing a year of eligibility.
This rule change will have far-reaching repercussions on competitive balance and many other factors. We must ask, is transferring schools harmful to a student’s overall well-being and development?
Prior to the current rule, to transfer while in high school, students would have to either move into the district of the new school, petition the WVSSAC or lose a year of eligibility. Each scenario presented issues.
Student athletes have become athletic nomads, creating a situation in which coaches are not guaranteed their community’s best players. Coaches will be tasked with developing plans to retain and recruit players, which may result in a plethora of ethical and moral dilemmas.
In addition, players and parents alike are not only considering playing time and coaching philosophy, but the school’s facilities, accommodations uniforms, stadiums and schedules, among other things. This has the potential to become very problematic, and what happens if the students make the wrong choice?
Much of the conversation surrounding the “high school transfer portal,” is strictly focused on sports. While I would never demean anyone for making a school decision based on potential success in a sport, especially considering the value of an athletic scholarship, when we are removing students from their neighborhood, friends and community are we equipping them with the necessary tools to be successful in a new environment? What will be the residual effects on transferring students after their playing days are done?
In full disclosure, I am the product of transferring schools. I transferred schools coming out of middle (junior high) school to high school and attended George Washington High School. The decision to attend GWHS was not my own — my father made the decision for me — and that decision was only partly based on athletics.
When I questioned my father, sports were the last reason on his list for me attending GWHS. This was especially surprising considering I was a standout athlete in junior high school.
My father had three reasons for sending me to GWHS. The first was socialization. In the mid-1990s, the internet was not prevalent and social media was not in our collective lexicon. Generally, our interactions were confined to our neighborhood. Our social circle was generally only expanded through family, sports or travel.
Although South Hills was minutes from my home on Charleston’s Westside, it might as well have been hours. I was not familiar with the South Hills area, and the only people I recognized were the few kids I played sports against. My father understood that it was important for me to become well-rounded and experience life outside my community. This was even more important considering the crossfire that the crack-cocaine crisis created.
Second on the list was education. While I will not submit that GWHS provided any better education than other schools in the valley at the time, I would suggest that because GWHS’s curriculum focused on independence and was not rigid, it forced me to develop study, organizational and time management skills, which paid dividends in college and law school. In addition, there was an acute focus on post-secondary education. My guidance counselor’s first questions to me were “Where are you going to college and what will you be majoring in?” Questions up until that point, I never considered.
Lastly was athletics, which my father used as a conduit to ensure I maintained my grades and behavior.
As mentioned above, I would never scoff at anyone’s reason for transferring schools. However, I would plead with parents to consider life beyond sports, make sure that the environment in which their child is entering adds value to them while maintaining a sense of self and develop a plan to maximize the opportunities presented to them.