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TOM WILLIAMS COLUMN: The T-Word in high school sports (Transfer)

The Cape-Atlantic League Basketball Tournaments conclude this week.

The boys and girls semifinals will both be played on Thursday – boys at Absegami, girls at St. Augustine Prep. You can blame Mother Nature.

Today’s snow forced the postponement of the boys Final Four and created the conflict, a conflict that especially impacts fans from Ocean City and Wildwood Catholic, who must decide whether to watch the girls or boys play from their school.

Of course, if a Wildwood Catholic fan drives like Bud Rinck, it might be possible to watch the girls play at The Prep at 5 and get to Absegami to see most of the boys game, that begins at 7. Ocean City fans have no such luxury – both their teams play at 5 p.m. But, fortunately, live radio and video streaming can ease the problem a little.

In the two boys semifinals there are at least seven players who will play key roles for their respective teams who started their careers at a different school. There are a few more in the girls games.

That is because of the “T-Word” – they Transferred.

Brian Cunniff wrote a detailed summery of the transfers in high school sports on this site three weeks ago – if you missed it, you can check it out here –

Brian accurately describes the feelings of those who are involved in transfers and those who oppose them. He uses one phrase in paragraph 12 that is somehow accurate and unfortunate at the same time – “Wildwood Catholic haters”.

How has high school sports lost its way so significantly that fans of one school actually hate another? Rivalries are great, but every game is followed by a handshake that is supposed to put the contest into perspective.

It’s a game.

Wildwood Catholic has probably benefited more from transfers than any school in the county. It is, as Brian points out in his commentary, quite a bit easier to transfer to a Non-Public school than to a public school since there are no sending districts involved.

But if we made a list of the best basketball players who transferred into every school in the county – or in the entire Cape-Atlantic League, for that matter – you would see that public schools benefit more than you might think.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has tried many solutions to what some perceive as the transfer problem. Currently it involves a 30-day waiting period before you can play at the new school, unless there is a legitimate change of address.

This has created many headaches for the NJSIAA – looking at phone bills, electric bills and rent receipts to determine if a new address is legitimate and other “investigations” that are really a waste of time.

Why not make this simple?

Let’s allow every student-athlete in New Jersey one transfer. No 30-day period, no need to prove a change of address. You want your son or daughter to change schools, fine. Hope it all works out for you. That would probably take care of more than 75 percent of the transfers.

Just a small, but important, restriction.

If you transfer once a season has started (first scrimmage) you are ineligible to play that sport at your new school for 12 months. When an athlete leaves during the season it impacts a lot more people and efforts should be made to avoid that. There also has to be a restriction on student-athletes who transfer after a suspension, expulsion or ineligibility.

Now that we’ve taken care of more than 75 percent of the transfers, what about the rest?

Any student-athlete who transfers again after that first transfer sits out 30 days. Change of address? Not important.

It has always been puzzling why New Jersey is so frantic about public vs. non-public. In many states public and private schools play in the same state tournaments. Some state also allow transfers with no restrictions.

In New Jersey, the public schools get to declare their own state and sectional champions because the pool of available student-athletes can be a lot bigger for the private schools. But, if fairness and equality are the purposes for separate public and non-public tournaments, maybe the state should consider separate tournaments for the schools that are part of the state’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program. There have been a significant number of talented athletes who have moved from one public school to another, making a positive impact on the Choice School’s athletic program, even though the actual statute forbids considering athletic ability when admitting choice students.

Parents need to have freedom to decide where their sons and daughters go to high school, whether that decision is based on the school’s science program, music program or athletics program. To want your child to be part of the best program available is just good parenting. Let’s just go out and play the games and stop spending so much time worrying about where the other team’s players came from.