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Holloway: A case for high school free agency
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It’s become an annual season unto itself.

The final whistle of football season sounds and fans begin clamoring to know where the best high school players are going next.

The message boards are jammed, all a-twitter with the latest rumors and hearsay. One school gets shunned for another and fans from both duke it out in a cyberspace dogfight. Allegations of inappropriate gifts, illegal favors and other nefarious goings-on pass from back-fence banter to irrefutable truth in a matter of minutes.

Sounds a lot like college recruiting, right? I wish that’s what we were talking about.

On my mind instead are the comings and goings of those athletes yet to matriculate.

Forgive me if I sound a bit detached from the current culture, but isn’t high school sports supposed to be about one town (or county or school district, as the case may be) taking its best athletes, coaching them up as best they can and taking on all comers.

How much pride in a school or a program can be derived from a band of ringers with no real, lasting affiliation to a school or its teams?

High school football was once a battle to prove which school had the best boys. Players came up through a system together, grew up together, formed a bond together. But in an era in which players bounce from one school to its neighbor and nobody bats an eye, it’s more of a battle to prove which team can accumulate the most All-Stars.

Where’s the satisfaction in that?

This diatribe isn’t to point fingers at any one person or any one school, because frankly, I don’t have enough fingers to point out all the offenders. As I’ve said before, every school around here that’s achieved success on the football field recently has benefitted from a high-profile transfer (or two, or three, etc.).

But something needs to be done about the trend if what’s left of integrity in high school sports is to be preserved. That much is easy enough to agree on. Most coaches and school administrators would be happy to install policies that kept the playing fields comparable, if not level.

How exactly to do that is a far more vexing question.

In May, Hall County Schools superintendent Will Schofield said he was in favor of strengthening the parameters of what qualifies as a “bona fide move.” But the Georgia High School Association, the state’s governing body in these matters, isn’t inclined to take on a problem when the statutes needed to properly fix it would be a logistical nightmare to enforce.

Last month in Missouri, the St. Charles school district voted to eliminate intradistrict transfers entirely. According to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the ruling arose out of a “growing concern that the intradistrict transfer policy was being used for athletic reasons rather than academic.”

That’s one way to approach it, but St. Charles only has two schools. What works for them wouldn’t easily apply to the seven public schools within Hall County’s borders. And of course, we can’t know with 100 percent certainty what prompts each transfer in Hall County, but it’s a safe bet that most have more to do with Xs and Os than As and Bs.

So what to do? Most onlookers agree the transfer trend is beyond control, but more regulations would only create more headaches.

At this point, we might as well allow students to come and go as they please, with only minimal restrictions.

Current policy already allows as much for players with the needed means to pick up and move to a different district — and for teams with the monetary backing to help those chosen players make the move — so any remaining integrity left in high school sports is already of a hollow sort.

The best way to level the playing field then is to drop the charade and embrace full-on free agency at the high school level.
At least then, every team is playing by the same rules.

Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at bholloway@gainesvilletimes.com.

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