Pasco's Tom McHugh, the county's longest-tenured head coach, said the policy will be helpful as long as each case is looked at the same way by the committee. MIKE CAMUNAS
BY MIKE CAMUNAS Tribune correspondent
Published: July 4, 2013
Transfering from one high school to another for the purpose of playing sports has become a statewide problem the past few years. The Pasco County School District has addressed this in policies that will make it more difficult to transfer. Starting this 2013-14 school year, the participation policy for student-athletes who transfer has been revised to better keep student-athletes in the school where they are assigned. "We may not have as many transfers as other counties, but we do have kids who have been in four different high schools in four years," said Phil Bell, Pasco County Supervisor of Athletics and Facilities. "But its going to stop the, 'Hey, my team isn't doing well, I don't like my coach and so I'm going to jump schools.' "
The new policy states that each student-athlete who transfers after ninth grade must sit out of participation for one calendar year from the date of enrolling in a new school. However, the policy provides valid reasons for a transfer, such as a complete move of residence, and all students who are affected by this policy may appeal their non-participation status to the Athletic Transfer Participation Committee in an attempt to regain participation status. "I think that with the appeal process in place, it is a fair policy," Bell said. "A parent moves or wants or needs to relocate for a job, then people have the right to pick up and move. If it's a legitimate reason, and they're able to document the story, the committee will be receptive to that." Bell believes many counties across the state, including Hillsborough County, which adopted a policy similar to Pasco's, are clamping down on transfers because of the recent legislation that was brought to the state. That legislation would take away most of the deciding power from the Florida High School Athletic Association. While that legislation did not pass, it promoted counties to address a growing need to take a closer look at athletes transferring and athletic programs recruiting such athletes. "I think the legislators wanted to see districts more involved with the decision making," Bell said. "That legislation was aimed at FHSAA, and that's what drove us to have a stronger transfer policy. We wanted to do the same thing districts were doing around the state." For appeals, the ATPC will initially meet twice a month starting in October. If a student-athlete's appeal does fail, Bell said they can appeal again, this time directly to County Superintendent Kurt S. Browning. The new transfer policy has been met with mixed reactions, especially from coaches across the county. Pasco football coach Tom McHugh, the county's longest-tenured football coach, thinks the process is fair, as long as the committee looks closely at each case. "If a student is in Pasco, then in Hillsborough, then back in Pasco and that doesn't pop some flags, then something is wrong," McHugh said. "If someone moved to Wesley Chapel with their whole family, then that's their case, and each case has to be treated the same way. "As long as it's on the up-and-up because you have someone who lives in Wesley Chapel, then goes to Land O' Lakes because of school choice, but then is at Sunlake another year - why did you do that? There has to be a reason, and it's natural progression of things to prove why you switched." Hudson boys basketball coach Jason Vetter, however, believes he is in the minority. Vetter, who has coached the Cobras for more than a decade, including in a letter to the school district administrators, said students should be allowed to transfer without penalty. Vetter thinks if a student-athlete doesn't want to be at a certain school or play for a certain program or coach, why force him or her. "I say, let them leave," Vetter said. "If they don't want to be here, don't make them be here. I've figured that if you play basketball for me, you spend more than 600 hours between games and practice and training. I think that a lot of coaches think of themselves when a kid transfers, but why diminish the value of athletics? A lot of times, these kids only have sports and are only going to remember a coach that helped them." No matter the stance taken, the new rule is to keep teams from gaining an unfair advantage, but the policy is in place, according to Bell, to keep things fair for all the county's athletic programs. "Its probably a necessary thing," McHugh said. "You have to have rules to keep people from taking advantage of something. If people just went where they were supposed to go, we wouldn't have this, but it is what it is." Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.