WDAY: The News Leader

Published February 13, 2011, 09:59 AM

Trend of student athletes transferring schools is here to stay

(WDAY Sports) - It's been going on for years, especially in Minnesota and the metro area, but recently, North Dakota has a seen a rise in student athletes transferring schools. And the circumstances are often a bit shady, to say the least. What's behind the increase? Can anything be done and who's really to blame? The bottom line, I found is that it's a trend that's definitely here to stay.

Sherm Sylling: “I never dreamt I’d see people sell farms and homes just to get children eligible in another school, but it happens quite often.”

Eligibility can occur three ways. Before beginning high school, a student has one chance to choose a high school. If a parent moves into a district, that student is immediately eligible. If there's no corresponding move of a parent, the student is ineligible for varsity competition for the entire year.

Sherm: “Anytime you create a rule, you create gray. And we have some people making hay in the gray.”

Take divorces, for example. Custody is granted to the mother, the father, or both. If it's joint custody, that student can move once and remain eligible.

Sherm: “We've had a number of convenient divorces over the years just to make kids eligible.”

Student athletes moving into districts and staying with relatives, or competing for one school one semester, then another school during the next semester are becoming common.

Sherm: “You have instances where parents want to get an apartment in that town during that sports season. The rule is you need a permanent residence. A dual residence will not work in determining eligibility; parents are getting smarter as to how to get around that rule.”

Greg Amundson was often accused of bringing in players from outside the district when he led Mandan to 6 consecutive state titles.

Greg: “Even when I coached, there were kids that just changed their post office box number. I don't think you'll ever cure it, you can't just put a band aid on it.”

Tyler Lehman transferred from North to Minnesota powerhouse Apple Valley before his junior year. But it was when Tyler returned his senior year, and wrestled for West Fargo, instead of North, that many people took umbrage.

Scott: “Wouldn't change a thing. Last time I checked, it was a free country. People shouldn't worry about what goes on in other peoples' backyards as long as you don't break any rules.”

If rules aren't being broken, they're at least being skirted.

Curt Jones: “They don't seem to affect some. They're bound and determined to transfer and will find a way around it.”

So what's behind the increase in transferring?

Sherm: “The increased pressure on kids to get scholarships.”

Bryan Strand: “The rise in AAU and head coaches being able to coach their kids during the summer opens the door to recruiting a little.”

Is it wrong for parents to have the freedom to move their kids to wherever, for whatever reason?

Sherm: “It's not against the law. There is open enrollment for educational reasons, but academia is an educational right. Athletics is a privilege.”

Does the current policy need to be amended again?

Sherm: “I would like to think so, but I'm not sure how.”

Curt: “We start thinking about things and think this is what we'd like to do. But can we legally do it? We don't have the answers.”

The Activities Association has only had to investigate six transfer situations since 2008, but Sylling told me he gets hundreds of calls a year on eligibility.