By Stephen Smoot
Two months ago, state legislators drafted a bill to repeal the new transfer rule that has started to reshape the dynamics of high school sports in West Virginia. Many say that it puts players at risk, particularly in contact sports.
Opponents of the new rule cite the number of blowout scores, especially early in the season. Some schools who benefited from the transfer rules scored up to 90 points in football games this fall.
Even more worrisome are the concerns shared by Delegate Walter Hall, a former teacher and coach, with West Virginia Watch, ( R – Kanawha.) He says “We are concerned in St. Albans that we’re even going to have a team to fill by five games … at this school that’s been around over 100 years. That’s shameful.”
He added that many teams have had to rely on younger and smaller players who otherwise might play junior varsity against players of their own size and skill level.
WVSSAC executive director David Price also explained his worries to WSAZ “It’s different now than what it’s ever been. There has always been blowouts if you will but not to the number and extent that we see now,”
Price added that “It hurts smaller schools when student athletes transfer. I just got off the phone with one today. They have 14 students and one transfer. They have a couple of students hurt in football. They could be down to 11 Friday night. One more injury and the game’s over, so it’s concerning.”
Not every legislator agrees that the need to repeal the rule. Delegate Eric Tarr of Putnam County told WSAZ that “I think it’s a good thing overall, because it’s creating a competitive environment for attracting students into our public education system. And we all want a public school that is competitive.”
Tarr also represents a county that contains Hurricane High School, whose football team elevated its program with 11 transfers.
Herbert Hoover head coach Joey Fields also supports keeping the rule, comparing the new “market” for high school programs to the job market. He stated “They’re loading up on the team because that program is doing the right thing, it’s creating value for the kids, opportunities for the kids and just like us adults we want the best job, we want the best homes for ourselves and our families.”
The issue is even bigger than what these legislators and coaches describe.
Sports, when done right, teaches the big life lessons about hard work, loyalty, and connection to community. Players learn what it means to represent a school and a community, to build bonds forged by hard work and loyalty. All of these things develop character traits that last far beyond the x’s and o’s.
Additionally, coaching staffs invest time and effort to train and teach. What does it teach kids if they take what they learned and abandon those who worked to build them into good players?
High school athletics is the worst place to implement a virtual free agent marketplace. Already three programs have broken the rules. Does it teach solid life skills to see coaches debase themselves to recruit who they think is the best, to pander to minor children? Colleges have already developed a shady and, frankly, slimy process with this. Does it do any one any good to see high schools go the same route?
If a player has earned a letter and wishes to transfer, then he or she ought to be penalized one season for any sport in which they earned the letter. This teaches the adult ideal of sacrifice and accountability, which most choices in life require.
Players in 11th or 12th grade who have not lettered in the sport could be allowed to transfer without penalty so that they might find an opportunity in a program that better suits their skill level.
The only non-issue here lies in the worry about blowout scores. The responsibility there lies with the coaches. When he coached the Keyser Golden Tornadoes, Morgantown’s Sean Biser would often have his offenses kneel out their downs at the opponents’ 30, regardless of how much time remained, rather than run up gaudy scores. Blowouts are a symptom of certain coaches lacking class more than a problem related to the transfer rule.
The Keyser program emphasized team winning and individual players conducting themselves with class, both as a point of pride and as a vital life lesson to the athletes.
Governor Jim Justice, who also taught and coached, stated the matter succinctly when he said “We are going to destroy high school sports all across this state if we don’t watch out what we’re doing,”