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Bird Brown: Sports will benefit from good move by Board of Ed

I was cleaning out one of our closets for some renovations we are about to take on and I came across something that I almost forgot that I had — my varsity letter jacket.

I couldn’t resist trying to see if it still fit and to my surprise, even though the snaps were squealing a little bit (well, maybe a lot), I was able to snap the front of it all the way up. Couldn’t breathe very well, but that’s another story.

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I remember how much it meant to me when I earned the right to join the club and to wear my VLC jacket everywhere. It not only had a certain status on the school’s campus, but I loved wearing it in public where I could proudly boast I was an athlete at Westminster High School. There were only four high schools back then, but if we were at a party or hanging out at Frisco Pub, you would see the same from athletes at North Carroll, South Carroll, and Francis Scott Key, each proudly wearing our school’s colors.

Four years ago, the Board of Education made a ruling that allowed students to more easily attend schools outside of their normal district. One of the unintended side affects was a number of student-athletes used the opportunity to transfer schools to move to a more favorable sports environment for themselves.

I remember complaining early in my coaching career for the girls’ side of Westminster’s soccer program that we in Carroll County were at a disadvantage to programs from some of the neighboring counties where freedom of choice of high schools allowed athletes the ability to choose their school as long as they could provide their own transportation.

But when the board passed its ruling and it became a reality in Carroll County, I no longer had the same perspective and didn’t support the open school policy. I didn’t understand why someone would want to transfer schools to participate in athletics for what should be their rival school.

We only have seven high schools in this county, and each of the schools has relatively clear district lines now so that you grow up with the same classmates from elementary school, to middle school, and to where you finally get to wear the colors of your high school.

Why now would you want to give all that up and start over, making new friends and finding your way in a new program with new coaches and new teammates?

I’m not naïve to think there aren’t athletes that have made those decisions to go to what they deemed a better program or a better opportunity for themselves, just like those same programs from other counties that earned my ire because they did the same when I was coaching the girls.

As a coach, I would love to have all of my club soccer players play together on one high school team. Instead, I tell my players all the time to stay and play for their friends, their significant others, their teachers, and their school pride and we’ll enjoy the battle on the field when we play each other and look forward to getting back together as a club when the high school season is complete.

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I’m lucky enough to coach many of the best high school players from Carroll County on my club team and I believe that we would be a serious contender for a high school state championship every year if we were all at the same school. As would a team in any sport taking the best athletes from across our county.

But do we need it?

Century’s boys won the Class 2A state title and FSK fell in the 1A finals using only the players that were supposed to go to their respective schools.

The recent reversal of the board’s decision establishing a new “restricted eligibility” policy that penalizes the athletes for transferring schools by not allowing them to participate for one year at the school to which they are transferring, is a bold move that is a step in the right direction. But I believe it should provide a bit more flexibility in certain situations that could be appealed to the superintendent or a committee designated to debate the merits of the transfer.

It happens in club sports all the time when athletes and their parents (not necessarily in that order) go in search of greener pastures. It’s actually easier for athletes in soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball, softball, volleyball, and basketball to be recruited through their club teams in their respective sports, but football has a smaller recruiting window and few, if any, play any type of club football.

That might be one example of something that a committee may have to consider.

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But what you encourage by allowing athletes to move freely between schools is that if something’s not going your way then just change your situation; when instead we should be teaching them how to face adversity by working harder to make themselves better or how to accept their role on the team, a far more important life lesson that will help them persevere when they face difficult situations in their careers.

I applaud the board’s decision four years ago to open the district’s borders, but even more so to recognize the changes that needed to be made and develop the new restricted eligibility policy. By making this move they put the emphasis back on the “student” in “student-athlete.”

As Roy Disney once said, “It’s not hard to make decisions once you know what your values are.”

Good to see they’re still in the right place.

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