March 29, 2018
By: Steve Degler
The transfer of high school athletes from one district to another, whether during the school year or over the summer, has been a topic of discussion in Pennsylvania (and most other states) for a long time. Trying to solve what some see as a glaring problem is not easy. Proving that someone changed schools strictly for athletic reasons is difficult. Most parents don't just admit "We're going to School X because the football team is better."
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) is taking steps this spring to try and get a handle on the situation. The controversy flared again during the girls state basketball tournament. Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia, already a state powerhouse, had sophomore guard Diamond Johnson added to its roster during the postseason. Johnson was averaging 33 points per game at her high school in Virginia. She also happens to be a Philly native. Throughout the PIAA tourney several coaches blasted the fact that Johnson was allowed to play for the Saints in their march to another state title.
To get an explanation, I went straight to the top as they say. I asked PIAA Executive Director Dr. Bob Lombardi about it before Neumann-Goretti took the floor at Giant Center in Hershey on Monday for the 3A championship game. His information was very enlightening. He pointed out that the principals for both high schools signed off on the transfer waiver stating it was not done for athletic purposes.
Neumann-Goretti is a member of the PIAA's District 12. What happened next is a very important step. Johnson transferred in February. District 12 decided that she couldn't play until a hearing was held. She could practice with the Saints, according to head coach Andrea Peterson, but she could not suit up for games. In early March the district committee voted at the hearing to grant her eligibility. The district...NOT THE PIAA. Lombardi told me the only way they get involved is if the committee denied her eligibility and Neumann-Goretti appealed to the PIAA.
Lombardi's final line summed up the matter. "Proper policy and procedures were followed."
We can speculate all we want about this and other transfers. Do they happen for athletic reasons? Absolutely. All the time. A parent can argue that he or she is just trying to do what's best for a son or daughter. But at some point a line has to be drawn. And that time is now.
Lombardi explained to me the new transfer rule that is being implemented by the PIAA. If a student-athlete transfers during a scholastic sports season (fall, winter, spring), one of two things will happen. If the athlete was available for better than 50% of the previous school's regular season games, he/she is ineligible to compete during that season at the new school. If the player was available for less than 50% of the regular season games, he/she must sit out 21 calendar days before being allowed to participate. Lombardi said there will be some stipulations in there regarding athletes who have been injured.
Will it solve the problem? We'll see. It's certainly a huge step in the right direction. You can bet there will be parents and maybe coaches who will look for any possible loophole to get around it. Will it negatively impact those who are forced to move because of a job or some other legitimate reason? Definitely. But you know the saying about one bad apple.