Coaches don’t need to recruit, nowadays.
Club coaches and parents will do it for them.
So will social media and new stadiums, weight rooms, pools and gymnasiums.
“I think it is more parent-driven than it used to be,” said Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
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With exposure, stardom and college opportunities on the line, recruiting and transferring to other schools continue to threaten the sustainability of high school sports.
As schools become known for their sports programs – think Bellevue football, Rainier Beach basketball or Bellarmine Prep’s volleyball and golf teams – that’s where the college recruiters go. And if that’s where the recruiters are, that’s theoretically an athlete’s best chance of getting a scholarship.
Mount Tahoma’s Dakota Smith said she thought about transferring to South Kitsap or Bellarmine Prep because of what she believed to be better opportunities for golf.
“I feel bad for wanting to in the first place, but when people look at Mount Tahoma, they are not looking at the golf team,” said Smith, who reached the Class 3A state tournament as a junior this past golf season.
What Colbrese said has bothered him the most is that athletes and parents know how to work the transfer game better now than 10 years ago.
The WIAA formed a committee to address high school recruiting that looked into making it more of a detriment to transfer, as well as how to monitor recruiting on summer teams. Currently, a student who transfers without moving into that new school’s district has to surrender a year of varsity sports, and the committee considered upping that penalty.
So families who pay month-to-month rent, for example, can transfer into a new school district as long as their next lease is in that district. And that clears their child for varsity sports.
“I think we are seeing that parents see this as putting their chips all-in at the poker table,” WIAA assistant executive director Brian Smith said. “This is their kid’s chance if he goes to this school. And they are following the rules.
“So if it’s within our rules, then what are we going to do?”
Decatur athletic director Korey Sites said there was one basketball player in the Federal Way School District who was eligible at Todd Beamer, Federal Way and Decatur — all in the same school year.
“Rather than recruiting, it’s the accumulation of talent at certain programs,” WIAA assistant executive director John Miller said. “It may not have anything to do with the coach out getting kids. It may be the AAU coach is trying to keep all of these kids together or a group of parents saying, ‘I want my kids to be successful so I want you and you and you to come to my school so that my kids can be successful.’
“The difference between the haves and the have-nots gets bigger. I personally think that is more of a concern now than it was 8-to-10 years ago.”
Demonstrating just how knowledgeable people have become in working the transfer game, Curtis athletic director Terry Jenks said he once had an AAU coach deliver him a Form No. 5 — page five of an eight-page WIAA document that an athletic director can complete in support or opposition of a student-athlete’s eligibility.
“Literally, I’m not kidding you, AAU basketball coach delivers me the Form No. 5, ‘Make sure this gets submitted to this school because you don’t want to hold this kid back,’” Jenks said.
Lakes football coach Dave Miller said recruiting has contributed to a disconcerting sense of entitlement among student-athletes — something he said select, club and AAU coaches have already fed into them.
“If you are going to put yourself in a position where you are going to recruit a kid, you’ve just created that (entitlement) right away,” Miller said. “You’ve just told him, ‘You’re special, and I want you to come play for me.’
“Now you are going to try to discipline that kid and make him accountable? That’s a reason I would never do it.”
White River boys basketball coach Rick Tripp agrees that discipline can become an issue because of the threat of transferring. If the player doesn’t like the punishment, they can go to another school.
“I think a lot of it has to do with a lot of these camps,” Stadium football coach Thomas Ford said.
Ford’s brother, Tracy, owns a Bellevue training facility and is in the middle of a school-district investigation into illegal recruiting and out-of-season coaching at Bellevue High School.
“It seems like there’s camps my kids are going to every weekend and every day,” Thomas Ford said. “Kids are talking to each other, saying, ‘Hey, I don’t like my situation at X school.’ And someone else says, ‘I really like my school.’
“‘Oh, I want to go to that school.’ That’s where, like Coach (Miller) said, that entitlement comes in where they weren’t getting the love they (think they) were deserving of, so they want to go somewhere else. But when you look at the statistics, probably 70 percent of the kids who go to a different school don’t play.”
Tamia Braggs, who plays on the Lincoln girls basketball team, said her home school is actually Mount Tahoma. But she optionally enrolled to go to Lincoln (students can enroll at any of the Tacoma Public Schools going into their freshman year). She said all her family members attended Lincoln and that’s where she felt she would benefit the most.
“But at the same time, just switching from school to school, like, ‘Oh, I want to go to Foss this year. No, I want to go to Wilson now. No. I want to go to Stadium’ — that is a whole different situation,” Braggs said.
“You can’t get on with life like that. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I want to go to this college now. No, I don’t want to go there anymore, I want to go to this one.’ … You can’t go, ‘I want this job, no, actually, I want this job now.’ You just can’t do that in life.”
Sites, the Decatur AD, said the rise in transferring and recruiting makes him question what the overall goals and values of high school athletics should be.
“Is it to get kids college opportunities and scholarships? I don’t think that’s what the main goal should be, at all,” Sites said. “I think that is a benefit, but when all of the sudden you have student-athletes transferring, No. 1, I don’t think they have the relationship with their coaches, so you can’t help them with the character side of things.”
Mount Tahoma’s Smith said that, looking back, she’s glad she didn’t transfer.
“I know I would have made a bad choice,” she said. “Bellarmine has some good people but I’m the only one from Mount Tahoma to go to state and I know that. So that makes me feel like I really accomplished something.”