Howard County transfer policy keeps soccer player out of the game

On High Schools

High Schools

September 23, 2005|By MILTON KENT

If a soccer player does not move from her home and is going to the same school this year that she attended last year, should that cost her a year of playing time?

That's the question that Jade Wildt, a Mount Hebron sophomore, and her mother, Leslie, would like to have answered and soon, before the soccer season ends and Jade has lost an entire year of high school playing time.

"If they [county school officials] would tell me that I could play, of course I would, like even if there was a week left of soccer, because I love to play it. But I don't really think they would," Jade said.

Jade's saga began last spring when Howard County officials formally notified her Ellicott City family that she would be redistricted into Marriotts Ridge, the 12th county high school, which opened this fall in Marriottsville.

Because her older sister Lauren, now a senior, was allowed to continue at Mount Hebron and because she had played soccer there, Jade applied for a transfer to her original school during the summer.

The transfer was granted, but with a pretty significant catch: Jade would be ineligible to play any sports at Mount Hebron this year because of a county educational policy that states:

"Students voluntarily transferring from one high school to another when such change is not due to a change in residence, boundary lines or pupil personnel placement, are not eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics for a period of one year, effective the day of the transfer."

The effect was devastating for Jade.

"It's been hard on her. She had a horrible summer. They took a lot away from her. It was upsetting to her," Leslie said. "She's done nothing wrong, except be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

With no seniors or juniors there this year, Marriotts Ridge is offering a junior varsity schedule in all sports, which, in theory, would give Jade an opportunity to play.

Except, Jade, a forward, was called up to Mount Hebron's varsity last year and scored a couple of goals and a pair of assists, suggesting she can play at a higher level.

Beyond wanting to be fully challenged athletically, Leslie said her daughter wanted to stay and play at Mount Hebron with girls that she had formed a bond with and had grown up with.

"You make it a rule to catch people doing something dishonest, and you're punishing a bunch of honest kids," Leslie said. "They knew that this isn't any kind of recruitment issue with her. She played with the team. This is her team. But they wouldn't bend at all."

According to Mike Williams, the new Howard County athletic director, the transfer policy is in place to protect from inter-county recruiting and poaching and applies to all student-athletes.

"It [the county transfer policy] provides for equity, and it stops, to a large extent, the exploitation of our student-athletes by one school or another or one coach or another wanting to move the kids around because of what they perceive to be the quality of the athletic program," Williams said.

"People do make conscious decisions to move into those school districts for one thing or another. Then, a new school opens and they moved in six years ago and their older kids went through fine but their younger kids have to go to a new school. It's disconcerting, and I understand them being upset because they anticipated all their kids being able to go to the same school."

Indeed, Williams said, the Wildts can appeal the ruling of the assistant superintendent for administration to Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and finally to the county school board.

And it isn't as if Jade, who is playing club ball, is completely helpless.

"Her options ... are to sit out a year or play JV soccer in a county where soccer's pretty good," said Williams, who has no input on transfer decisions and appeals. "It's a choice. It's not like she can't play and get better, and she'll still have two years of varsity if she's talented enough and wants to be seen by colleges."

Williams, who coached girls and boys soccer, points out that most college coaches don't scout high school regular-season games, preferring to watch tournament games and club matches in the late fall and spring.

And while that approach sounds logical and reasonable, logic and reason mean little to a high school girl who just wants to play the game she loves with teammates she adores.

"They redistricted the school, and we fought to get her back where she wanted to go," Leslie said. "They're playing real hardball about this. The child has done nothing wrong. She just wants to play with her team."

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