Don’t tell me recruiting doesn’t happen in high school sports. I know for a fact it’s been part of the landscape for at least 20 years.
Twenty years ago, as a college basketball coach in Florida, I got a call from a high school coach in the Atlanta area, a guy I knew from recruiting his players — only this time he was the one recruiting.
He told me his team could win a state championship if he they had an athletic big guy. He was looking, he said, for “a poor kid with a single mom” who might be persuaded to move. He had a wealthy booster who could hook the mom up with a job and a place to live. Did I know anyone who fit the bill?
I told him I’d ask around and call him back. I never did. The whole episode made me uncomfortable.
Fast forward 10 years. By then I had left coaching and moved to the Atlanta area, where my own sons were playing high school basketball. As I visited various gyms, I often thought about that phone conversation, although I hardly needed to. The evidence of illegal recruiting was all around me.
All things being equal, most high schools will have a really tall kid every few years. Most will have the occasional college prospect, maybe two. But what should we make of those programs that feature a steady stream of 6-foot-9 athletes and boast multiple Division I signees every year? What are the odds that would occur randomly?
As someone who used to watch high school games for a living, I can tell you: slim and none.
And how do we explain the fact that my sons’ teams competed well against those schools at the ninth-grade and JV levels, then got blown out at the varsity level?
Easy. They weren’t facing the same kids. By 11th grade, the top players from the sub-varsity teams were sitting on the bench, watching a bunch of transfers — read “ringers” — play varsity.
This is not hypothetical. One local school recently had several kids from the same summer-league team suddenly “transfer in.” The kids who had grown up in that school district either were relegated to the bench or left.
As a parent, I thought that was unfair to our players. But it was especially unfair to the young men who had come up through that program, working hard and doing everything they were asked, only to become expendable as juniors and seniors.
Parents, if your school’s administrators say they care about students, yet you notice that the sports teams consistently have better athletes than might realistically be expected, and that many of those great athletes are transfers, then you can safely assume two things.
One, your school is illegally recruiting. And two, the administrators don’t really care about students. They just care about winning.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility,” available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit familymanthebook.com.