What is the use of open enrollment when the student still has to sit out a year?
Sorry, I meant to say when the student-athlete still has to sit out a year.
Yes, it’s that time of the year again when the Kern High School District rolls out its offering to parents and prospective high school students. That is, the opportunity to apply to a high school that is not the designated one according to their home address.
It’s a commendable concept, really.
The district offers up the different programs each school excels at — Arvin’s horticulture program, North’s aviation program, or Stockdale’s medical academy are all good examples.
Those are incredible programs and KHSD is completely justified in offering them at the high school level, and then allowing students and families to select a school and program that fits their academic aspirations.
But there is a caveat here, at least when it comes down to athletics.
Other than instructing parents and guardians on the timeline and the need for an adult to be present to apply, there are no stipulations made by the district. Furthermore, the parents or guardians do not have to give a reason for the transfer.
Unless, that is, said transfer pertains to a student-athlete. If it does, that student will not participate in sports during their freshman year at their new school. They can practice and be part of the team, but playing in games as a freshman is a no-no for anyone granted a transfer in the open enrollment process.
Stan Greene, the director of school support services at KHSD, said the rule it in place to help curtail transfers with athletic motivation, and in part to keep grassroots talent at its designated school.
“Kern High still holds true that we want neighborhood kids at neighborhood schools,” Greene said.
Fair enough. Yet while I understand that point of view, I also see an issue in the spirit of the rule.
Local family feels impact
Damon Hill's son, Isaiah, is a standout junior guard for the Liberty boys basketball team, and was also the quarterback for the varsity football team the past two seasons.
Although the Hill family does not live in the Liberty High district, Damon wanted his son to go to the school and play for the Patriots. Damon did his research, and the family collectively made the decision. When it was all said and done, Isaiah transferred and had to sit out his freshman year.
“We thought it was worth it. Yes, he had to sit out, but he got to go to practice,” Damon Hill said. “At first he was upset, but then he had time to accept it. But then when it came around, he wanted to play. It was hard at times for him to wrap his head around that.”
It was also difficult to transition from junior high athletics to high school varsity sports with an entire year away from participation.
While Hill got experience on the AAU circuit, his classmates received additional playing time as high school freshmen.
“All of it counts. That high school experience is important,” Damon Hill said. “Everyone has had that high school year to get acclimated. It does have an effect.”
An inevitable outcome
Yes, sports and the excessive amount of conversations over athletes transferring has been a topic of conversation. It hits home here in Kern County, but not even at the rate seen in Southern California. There, moving from one school to the other is like changing seats in a movie theater because someone taller just sat in front of you.
The CIF — the governing board of high school athletics in the state — and the Central Section officials, have started loosening the restrictions on transfers. The commissions at the state and section levels have basically been forced to wash their hands of the topic because there isn't enough time in the day.
The responsibility has been handed off to the school districts to decide the determining factors.
There are currently transfer guidelines for non-freshman student-athletes that require a family to show it made a full move, or that there was no undue influence on the move.
But that's pretty much it.
Travel ball, AAU and recruiting are going to happen regardless and the CIF, the sections and even the school districts can’t police it all. In other words, their hands are tied.
People are going to file a false address that they don’t live in. Some will do whatever it takes to claim an address because they think their child will get an upper hand by playing for this school, that coach, or whatever else they can come up with to justify their reasoning.
A possible solution
The reality is 1-to-2 percent of high school athletes move on to play at the collegiate level (Isaiah Hill, most likely, will be one of them in basketball). Conversely, moving to a new school or the better team may help 1-to-2 percent of athletes that transfer.
So, instead of telling freshmen they have to sit out a year of athletics if they choose to go to a school not designated for their home, let them go at their own risk and see if it does or does not work out for them.
That's the solution I would propose, with the understanding that there is no perfect remedy: Just eliminate the one-year initial sit-out period.
That rule only harms the student-athletes.
These are still high school kids. This isn’t like college athletics, where students and programs have a redshirt option for a fifth year of eligibility. High school athletes get four years to play sports, period. Cut and dry. That’s it.
And here's another thing the district could impose:
If a student-athlete does transfer through open enrollment before their freshman year and then decides later on to make a change, then implement the one-year ineligibility rule.
Have the parents and student-athletes better educate themselves on where they want to go before they enter high school and then hold them to it.
But if you allow the families to make the decision before high school, then it’s been declared and it was their decision and the regulations have been made.
“If you are going to have open enrollment, there shouldn’t be any stipulation,” Damon Hill said. “If you allow it (before freshman year) that should be the time to do it. Then after the fact, you either actually move or sit out.”
There is not a singular correct answer here. And again, I understand wanting neighborhood kids attending their local school.
But in a world where transfers are not going away, why not present it to them early, allow them to make the decision, and then hold them accountable?
It may not be the end-all, be-all answer. But, to me, it’s the best answer for right now.