High School Sports

‘Out of control’: South Sound HS coaches report widespread illegal recruiting, transferring

Coaches believe the transfer problem lies with parents and the perception that their child has a greater shot at getting recruited at a more notable program.
Coaches believe the transfer problem lies with parents and the perception that their child has a greater shot at getting recruited at a more notable program. Thinkstock photo

A majority of the high school coaches responding to a News Tribune survey said they are fed up with the prevalence of student transfers and the ease at which they take advantage of loopholes in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s regulations.

Fifty-six of the 106 South Sound coaches responding said recruiting and transferring has gotten so out of hand that it would be better for the WIAA to change its rules and force transferring student-athletes to sit out for either a half or full sports season — regardless of a change of address.

And this was said before the WIAA released last week the results of an independent investigation into the nationally recognized Bellevue High School football program — which uncovered “significant and long-standing violations”

Bellevue’s football program received at least 42 transfer students between 2008 and 2015. That’s almost two starting offenses and defenses — just in transfer students.

“Transfers and the lack of loyalty from many players and parents is killing high school sports,” Auburn girls basketball coach Jon Price commented in the survey, conducted April 5-13. The survey included coaches of “team” sports (baseball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, football, softball and volleyball) from around the West Central District — one of the largest districts in the state.

“High School athletics used to bring a sense of community and pride to local communities,” Price said. “Now in the cities and suburbs of Seattle and Tacoma, it’s a free for all, especially for coaches who try and play within the rules and coach the kids they have, not recruit outsiders.”

But Bellevue certainly isn’t the first nor the last to benefit from students who transfer from another school.

The I-5 corridor with Seattle, Federal Way and Tacoma has long been considered a hotbed for student-transfers and recruiting.

Class 3A state boys basketball champion Rainier Beach had two players transfer in who are headed to Pac-12 universities next school year. Back-to-back 4A boys basketball champion Federal Way started two players who had transferred from Todd Beamer and another from Curtis. The Garfield boys basketball team had three players who had previously reached the Tacoma Dome — only with different schools.

Students should take pride in their high school and community. I think that is one of the biggest problems with high school sports. Parents all think their kids are superstars and they want them to play on the ‘best team.’

Shelton girls basketball coach Aaron Leth

Executive officials from the WIAA said in a roundtable hosted by The News Tribune last summer that transferring and recruiting is more an issue now than it might have ever been.

Coaches believe the problem lies with parents and the perception that their child has a greater shot at getting recruited at a more notable program. And if parents aren’t coming to that conclusion on their own, they’re certainly being sold that notion by AAU, club or select coaches.

Auburn athletic director Bob Jones said every athlete at his school with NCAA Division I capabilities — including Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton — has gone on to play NCAA Division I sports. And he’s been involved at the school as either a coach or athletic director for 35 years.

“It’s out of control, in my opinion,” Clover Park football coach John Randall said. “Parents are going out of their way to get their children to the newest, hottest program. I have been told and also witnessed, after the fact, some of these issues.”

He wasn’t the only one.

▪  About 79 percent of coaches said they’ve witnessed student-athletes at their school be recruited to play for another in the past five years, and 36 percent of those indicated it’s a frequent occurrence.

▪  About 75 percent said they’ve had student-athletes transfer for what they believed were athletic purposes. Of that, 57 percent indicated they knew it was for athletic purposes.

▪  When asked about parents who “shop” their child, 69 percent of coaches said they’ve been approached by parents about their sports program when their kids don’t attend that school.

“It’s just not healthy. Sports are EXTRA-curricular,” White River coach Mike Williams said. “Education is the key piece we lose track of. Have fun in your class reunion in 20 years hanging out with the two baseball players that show up.”


More than 100 high school coaches from across the South Sound chimed in on The News Tribune’s survey of their experiences with student-athlete transfers and high school recruiting, conducted April 5-13. Staggeringly, more than 80 percent of coaches agreed that transfers are bad for high school sports, yet 75 percent said they’ve had a student-athlete on their team transfer to another school for what they believe were athletic purposes.


If a family moves just to join a sports program, then that’s a pretty shallow family who whether they realized it or not has their priorities mixed up. … If a great athlete is in a poor program, they can still learn a lot through that experience, continue to play outside of HS ball and move on. Sometimes life isn’t fair and you have to learn to deal with it.

Coach, who requested their answers remain anonymous


When only transferring due to sports, that is wrong. I don’t care either way and I will go to battle with guys who want to be at our school.

Mount Tahoma boys basketball coach Jason Townsend


I understand there are circumstances that transferring is best, but I have a hard time thinking ‘bailing’ young athletes out by transferring because of a playing time disagreement or other issues is OK.

Sumner girls basketball coach Jordan Moog


All situations are different and sometimes there are other reasons to transfer schools — academics, social issues — but they need to be held out of varsity sports for a year. … Gavin Robertson (a University of Arizona signee) transferred to AMHS from Blanchet and he had to sit out a year of football, which definitely impacted his recruiting and hurt our season, we would have definitely benefited from having a Pac-12 football player playing on Friday nights instead of Monday afternoons. But that is the consequence of his family making the decision to transfer schools.

Auburn Mountainview football coach Jared Gervais


Wilson boys basketball coach Dave Alwert: Coaches can't hold kids as accountable due to threat of leaving.

Gig Harbor baseball coach Pete Jansen: No hardship cases. If they transfer they need to sit out one year for varsity competition.

Decatur athletic director and baseball coach Korey Sites: I believe there needs to be some safeguard against students transferring for athletics purposes only. This puts to much emphasis on athletics, not enough on being a student. I would be a proponent of looking at other solutions than the current WIAA rules of sitting out a year of varsity.

Gig Harbor boys and girls soccer coach Todd Northstrom: If a kid wants to try to play in an environment that is better suited for them and their needs, why should they be restricted? However, if recruiting is used to bring an athlete to a particular school, I have an issue with that.

Auburn Mountainview boys basketball coach Thomas Ostrander: What is best for kids is for them to focus on being a kid. Chasing titles by transferring schools teaches these kids nothing. Winning state titles is about working hard and doing it with the kids you grew up with. Coaches have to understand that we are high school coaches. High school sports is about creating a program that builds community and passion for a particular sport and winning with the kids that are supposed to attend your school.

Fife boys and girls soccer coach Tony Crudo: Many students plan on using sports to help them post high school graduation. Sometimes they need to perform at higher levels or with better players to demonstrate or improve their skills and abilities. Building barriers to their efforts seems counterproductive if we allow some students (non-athletes) to go to a Running Start college Program or a Skills Center to learn welding.

White River athletic director and girls basketball coach Chris Gibson: If they are moving for nonsports reasons, then I have no problem. The "AAU" buddy move is a huge problem.

Puyallup girls and boys soccer coach Matt White: Players and parents move for club sports all the time based on quality coaching, team success and opportunities. Limiting student/athletes choice of schools is somewhat archaic. At present, parents with money and means move schools and can manipulate the system to get their child into the school/program of their choice. Student/athletes without means can get stuck in schools/programs with no ability to have the same experience as wealthier and more politically savvy families.

Puyallup boys basketball coach Scott Campbell: I believe that players and parents should be able to transfer if they are willing to move their family and meet the requirements that are established. The problem I have is that not all schools are under the same transfer rules. The difference between private schools and public schools is unfair. As is the difference between public schools in big cities and public schools in rural communities. Need to make it the same for all.

Anonymous boys basketball coach: The rules are fine, but they’re not enforced. It's an honor system. At our school, we follow the rules, and kids who have wanted to transfer in, don't. But too many schools don't have the same morals.

Anonymous coach: Too many daddies trying to get kids to move to help their own kid. Kids aren't the problem, it's parents.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677, @tjcotterill

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