Varsity athletes who transfer between high schools in Carroll County will be restricted in their eligibility during their first year at their new school after the Board of Education approved a change to its out-of-district policy at its most recent monthly meeting.
Carroll County Public School policy now states that varsity athletes changing schools will be placed on “restricted eligibility,” meaning the student can be a member of the team and attend practice, but is barred from “competition, public performances or leadership roles" for one year after the transfer.
This applies only to sports that transferring students played on the varsity level at their previous school. It does not affect students’ ability to participate fully in sports in which they did not participate as a varsity athlete. It also does not affect other extracurricular activities, such as marching band.
The athletics department is working to write a definition for the term “varsity athlete,” in hopes of eliminating ambiguity. Karl Streaker, director of Student Services, shared an example of underclassman students who are tapped for varsity playoff games at the end of the season. These students shouldn’t count as varsity athletes for this policy’s purposes, he said.
Additionally, students are eligible for athletics in only one out–of-district high school, according to the policy.
Streaker said Thursday that there would be no exceptions to the policy. On Friday he clarified via email that any appeal would go to Superintendent Steve Lockard.
According to CCPS data, 313 students attended high schools outside of their home districts last school year with 113 of those participating in athletics. Of those, 29 had changed schools after reaching high school. The other 84 started their high school careers at out-of-district schools.
In 2016, the school system made major changes to the policy for students attending out of attendance area, opening up “school choice.” One goal was to boost enrollment numbers by keeping students in public schools who might otherwise have chosen private school or homeschooling.
CCPS Supervisor of Athletics Michael Duffy said he supports the policy change approved Wednesday.
“We want them to go through their schools. And I do understand there are reasons why students may attend schools outside their boundaries ... by giving that option I know it encouraged some students to return from private schools," he said. “But I think one of the unintended consequences of that was that students were utilizing the out-of-district opportunities to move schools for athletic purposes. And that’s not how we want to run our athletics program.”
In 2019, members of the Board of Education raised concerns that “abuse” of the system was taking place within varsity sports.
The discussion began at a regular Board meeting and continued into two work sessions where the Board considered multiple options. The video of the sessions, where staff shares data and board members raise concerns for and against proposed policies is available at www.carrollk12.org under “Board of Education” and “Meeting Videos.”
The Board also gave time for public comment on the matter and received about 10 letters.
Vice President Marsha Herbert was the most outspoken Board of Education member in favor of preventing students from transferring for athletic reasons. In an interview Friday, Herbert reiterated that she is passionate about fairness in the athletic program. For her, the recent changes are “a step in the right direction.”
She said that her background in coaching and teaching prompted coaches and teachers to approach her. After the board opened up wider school choice in 2016, Herbert said she was “bombarded” by calls asking her to take another look at the policy
“I am a firm believer that school is a community. And I’ve said that a lot. And I know the importance of athletics and high schools ... so I think that’s why a lot of people reached out to me because of my contacts," she said.
Herbert noted that she attended one particular varsity game last year in which a number of starters were transfer students.
"I know how important athletics is to students and it wasn’t fair,” she said.
She declined to comment on whether the new policy change might, as an unintended consequence, drive athletes to private schools rather than transferring between Carroll County high schools and having to, essentially, sit out a year in their sport.
CCPS staff and the Board will come back to the topic after some time has passed to take a look at how things are working out under the new regulations, Herbert said, although no timeline has been established.
As for why the regulations don’t impose restricted eligibility for other extracurriculars, Herbert said, "We were addressing athletics. I see where you’re going, but no, we do not have information on that.”
Becky Groves, Century High School girls lacrosse coach, said the new policy could help put to rest rumors of recruiting by coaches.
“From a coaching standpoint, it’s stated in Carroll County rules that coaches are not allowed … to recruit. Whether that’s being done or not is another thing,” she said.
“It personally didn’t really affect me that much. I do have a few transfers, but they came in either freshman year or transferred when they weren’t a varsity athlete. So the few transfers I do have wouldn’t even be affected by that new rule.”
She feels that the new policy focuses on sports and not other extracurricular activities because, “sports is more of a competitive atmosphere, where it’s really publicized, the winner and the loser. Whereas a drama program, they’re not going be like, ‘Oh, this play is better and that one’s not.’ So I think that’s where they really want to draw the line in sports.”
Duffy said he doesn’t think coaches were recruiting players, but that doesn’t mean recruiting wasn’t occurring.
“I don’t believe staff was recruiting. I think students recruit each other," he said. “Parents recruit clubs, you know, people play on clubs, and they want to continue to play together. And, I think the reality of it all, is that success recruits.”
Duffy said the policy change is in line with how he views high school athletics’ role.
“I think the bottom line is in an educational environment, we’re trying to build our students and make them into better people, better citizens and learners through athletics. College recruitment is a component of it. But I would be disappointed if college recruitment was the sole goal ... of any of our programs,” he said.
“Part of athletics is sometimes dealing with adversity and working through it, so I reject the premise that students have no other option but to transfer and go play elsewhere," Duffy continued. "We don’t want high school sports to turn into club sports where people are unhappy and they jump ship every time they’re unhappy, right? ... The club isn’t bad, but we have a we have a different mission. And our mission is not, should not be, ‘Win at all costs. And if you’re unhappy, go to a different school.’”
Perhaps the most high-profile example of a student finding success through the open enrollment policy might be Liberty High School senior Nathan Kent, who transferred from Westminster High School before his junior year and went from a backup role on one football team to a starting spot on another.
Kent won back-to-back Times Football Player of the Year honors and has tweeted about receiving offers to play football in college.
Still, Liberty football coach Larry Luthe said he agrees with the policy change.
“I think you really want to avoid kids being able … to shop around and say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to start here, let me go to another school where I can start,’ or, ‘This school’s not very good, let me go play at a better school,’” Luthe said. “I know that sounds hypocritical because we sort of benefited from it, but we’re supposed to be high school athletics and not college athletics.
“We benefited from it, but the other side of it is … I have not been to a youth league game since this came in. I don’t want get accused that I’m trying to recruit kids. I don’t think high school athletics, public school athletics, should become about recruiting and trying to get your best players.”