The Alaska School Activities Association officially let its high school basketball season become a farce last week.
It happened on Tuesday night, when former Angoon residents Ozelle and Jordan Jamestown played their first basketball game for the West Anchorage Eagles. The brothers started the season playing for the East Anchorage Thunderbirds, but two weeks ago they switched schools.
Not to pick on the Jamestown brothers, but this transfer should never have been allowed. The Jamestown brothers weren't the first prominent athletes to switch schools during the season hockey player Casey Cusack transferred from East to Dimond one week before the Anchorage High School Hockey Association tournament in February 1998 and under the current rules they probably won't be the last. They're just the most recent.
ASAA, which oversees all high school extracurricular activities in Alaska, and the Anchorage School District both have open-transfer policies. Not only do these policies allow transfers during the summer, but they allow for in-season transfers if there's a corresponding move by the student-athlete's parents or legal guardians.
And it's time for those policies to change.
It's one thing for transfers to take place during the summer or between sports seasons for example, an athlete who played football at Bartlett in the fall transferring to Lathrop to run track in the spring. Sometimes there are circumstances the student has no control over that force a move, such as a parent's job transfer or the end of a marriage.
However, in-season transfers shouldn't be allowed. Or, if they are allowed, there should be a minimum distance involved with the move say 75-100 miles that make it more than a city bus ride or a short drive by car between the schools.
The problem with in-season transfers goes beyond the way they upset the balance of power in high school sports. In-season transfers have harmful effects on the chemistry of both teams, especially when the athletes involved are starters.
The school that lost the athletes has to fill a void in its lineup, and the remaining players have a feeling of abandonment. The school that picked up the new players has to rearrange its lineup; in this case, West has two players that have been with the team since December who just lost their spots on the varsity and won't get to go to the region or state tournaments.
This is why the current ASAA and ASD policies need to change, especially since under the current bylaws athletes can become immediately eligible once their move is certified. If the NCAA can make athletes sit out a year for a transfer, then why can't ASAA make it so transfers aren't allowed during the current sports season?
When the transfer was announced a week ago, the Jamestown brothers and their father, Nathaniel Vickers, told the Anchorage Daily News the family moved into the West district and a lack of transportation kept the brothers from being able to stay at East.
They said the move had nothing to do with Ozelle's dispute with East coach Fred Young during the East T-Bird Classic two weeks ago when Ozelle left the bench and headed into the locker room after being pulled from the game and they said it had nothing to do with wanting to play for West coach Chuck White, who coached 14 East teams to state titles.
"We were sort of forced into the situation," Ozelle told the Anchorage Daily News. "We thought we'd still be in the East district. It wasn't really our decision. ... We didn't want to leave East. We're T-Birds."
But there are other alternatives to in-season transfers, especially in Alaska's larger communities where there are multiple schools. If you can't get to your old school using the school bus, maybe you can use the city bus or a teammate with a car can give you a lift.
I grew up in Anchorage and the summer before my senior year my family moved from the Bartlett district into a subdivision on the border of the Dimond and West districts. I had my choice of attending Dimond or West, but I chose to stay at Bartlett. Since I didn't have a car, that meant getting up at 5 a.m. so I could catch a 5:45 city bus, then I had to make two transfers to get to Bartlett by the time first period started at 7:30 a.m.
Being able to stay at your original school after a move is difficult, but it's doable. None of the high school sports seasons lasts longer than four months and there are some sports that last just two months, so finding a way to finish a season with your original team is only a short-term inconvenience.
I can understand the need for an in-season transfer when there's a move of significant distance. But the problem with in-season transfers in the bigger cities is crosstown school changes are too easy to make when there's a coach-athlete dispute, or when an athlete feels his team might not qualify for state and a transfer will allow him to compete on a better team. All it takes is finding an apartment and filling out a couple of change-of-address cards.
The Alaska School Activities Association needs to address this issue before it really makes a mockery of fair play and sportsmanship in Alaska high school athletics.
Charles Bingham is the sports editor at the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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