Sports editor Will Hammock sat down recently with two men who have a substantial impact on Gwinnett high school sports, Mike Emery and Dave Hunter, to discuss a number of topics. Among them was the issue of transfers hurting high school athletics, particularly basketball.
Here's what Emery, the director of athletics, activities and community schools for Gwinnett County Public Schools, and Hunter, a member of the Georgia High School Association's Executive Committee, had to say.
WH: One reason I love high school football is you don't have kids playing AAU or other club sports. You don't have kids traveling with their club football team. How do you feel AAU and club sports have affected high school sports and how do you see them affecting things in the future?
DH: Let me address that. Back in the old days, in the 1960s, the TSSAA in Tennessee where I grew up and the GHSA here, nobody challenged (the high schools). If you were playing basketball, you couldn't play on any other team. If you were playing football, you couldn't play on any other team. Legalities have stopped all that. Now we have kids kicking in football season and playing club soccer (at the same time). Or playing (high school) basketball and playing AAU basketball. In my opinion, this whole idea that we all grew up with playing whatever sport was in season is pretty much gone. AAU basketball starts as soon as basketball season is over and goes to the next basketball season. Club soccer, I think if you asked the players in high school soccer to make the choice, would take club soccer because a lot of them get scholarships from that. Club soccer in the fall probably deters some kids from playing football in the fall or from running cross country. It deters some girls from softball. I personally, philosophically, don't like those sports out of season, although legally you can't stop that. ... There's no question and I'm an ex-football coach, that fall baseball has hurt football a little bit. Not as much as people presumed when it started. I think probably club soccer has hurt some of the other sports in the fall. And then the AAU basketball has really hurt track.
ME: I think from the schools' standpoint, we have really tried to bend over backwards to work with a lot of these club teams. But that's not reciprocated. I think we run into a lot of these club teams who tell kids you don't need to play on your high school teams. You're not going to get the exposure. We're going to help you get that scholarship. We fight that tremendously, especially in soccer, where kids are being told you don't need to worry about your high school. You need to play club. You need to travel. We fight that every day, year-round. We fight to get kids to continue to play for their school team, to play with their friends, to represent their school and their community. There's a lot more to athletics than getting that scholarship and all that other stuff. That's where we're losing sight of a lot of it. We're fighting to keep that for our schools.
DH: The Georgia High School Association is criticized a lot, supposedly because we allow people to move from one school to another and don't do anything to them. When they move their residence, we can't legislate people's ethics and morals. AAU basketball, club basketball has been a big recruiting tool for some of the more elite (high school) basketball programs in the state. Consequently, it's put a little mud on the face of the game to some degree. Not that people shouldn't move if they have legitimate reasons to move, but you see this kid played on this AAU team and all of the sudden there are two more from that AAU team playing at school X or school Y. You've heard that for years about a school in Cobb. And there's a school in Fulton. You hear about a lot of different schools. AAU basketball has been the most visible as far as encouraging transfers. Is that the best way to put it, Mike?
ME: The best interest of kids are not always served by these outside organizations, I don't think. It's a very tunnel vision, focus on individuals or organizations. Not necessarily the kids.
DH: I run the state basketball tournament (at the Arena at Gwinnett Center) for the GHSA. I had a county school's AD come to me and say, 'So-and-so is up there filming.' Because they thought they were going to play them the next night. I went and asked the guy, of course he gave me the wrong answer. He said, 'I'm filming for coach, one of the high school coaches, for coach so-and-so's AAU team. Well the coach can't coach an AAU team. But he was filming for coach so-and-so's AAU team. Of course I had to get the police and get the camera and all that. That's how that guy perceived his AAU team. I'm not sure if it was that coach's AAU team that he coached, but everybody thought it was. That's part of the problem.
WH: It seems like all year there are, especially in basketball and here in Gwinnett, a bunch of transfers going from school to school to school. It just keeps growing. How hard is it to police? How much do people bug you to do something about this?
DH: I'm going to speak for Mike because I know the position he's in. If you and your wife live in the Brookwood district or the South Gwinnett district and rent a house or apartment, and you want to transfer to Norcross or Dacula or Peachtree Ridge. If you let your lease go and move other there, there's nothing illegal about that. People tell us all the time that the GHSA rules are for the middle class. People that are extremely wealthy can put their house on the market, move their entire family into a rental house and if they've done that legally, then he or she is eligible. If they rent, they can pick up and move and they're eligible. Middle class people can't afford to put their house on the market and pay another rental payment. That's who can't transfer. There's a lot of that going on because there is more rental going on, less people own homes. And if they rent, they can pick up and move in three days. So if you get unhappy, you can move. Our society's like that now. Everybody's into instant gratification. They want it now. They're winning so I want to go over there.
WH: Mike, do you hear that at your level? Do people complain to you about transfers?
ME: Yeah, absolutely. It doesn't matter what sport it is. In competitive cheerleading, you get the same thing. This girl's at South Gwinnett and all of a sudden she's cheering at Grayson. Each sport has their group that is so passionate about it, especially in Gwinnett County. We've won six of the eight state championships so far this year, so we take it seriously. Sometimes maybe over the top seriously. But it's a big deal. Like Coach Hunter said, there are so many variables to consider. You can't just look at a case and say that's recruiting. That's cheating.
DH: If Mike Emery gets a job offer from another school district that gives him a $40,000 pay raise and he moves and he's got two kids who play sports, should he be penalized for that? No. So you can't just make a blanket rule. I used to tell my coaches all the time, if you want to complain, give me the solution. I don't want the problem. I know the problem. I want the solution. Give me a solution. We had a guy at the region meeting (in January) complain about something and I said, 'How are you going to solve this?' He said, 'I don't know. I just don't like that.' That's the wrong answer. Give me the solution. We hear it all the time about transfers and I'm sure I'm not by myself at the GHSA. So and so is playing ineligible players. So and so has got kids that moved into Peachtree Ridge and they live over here and they recruited them. Well, prove that. We live in a society where proof is important and necessary. There's a lot of innuendo. People by nature think the worst. They want to be negative.