Friday, October 31, 1997

High school athletes in city get exemption: The change was necessary because Columbia has a different school configuration

Published in the Columbia Missourian

All is fair in love and war, it is said. Now that's true for Columbia's high school athletes, too. The school district has made sure that Columbia high school athletes are on equal footing with athletes elsewhere in the state. At the request of the school district, the Missouri State High School Activities Association approved an exception to a new state regulation regarding athletes who transfer high schools.

"This is an effort to comply with a new MSHSAA regulation without penalizing the students in Columbia," said Assistant Superintendent Lou Barlow. The association governs extracurricular activities at member schools, including athletics and other student organizations.

The new association bylaw was passed to prevent high schools from recruiting each other's athletes.

The rule sets out the criteria for high school students' athletics eligibility. Under the original rule, Columbia students transferring high schools would be ineligible for varsity athletics not only in 9th grade, but also in 10th grade. Students transferring high schools are ineligible for varsity sports for 365 days following the transfer.

The sticking point in the rule states that students are ineligible for one year following their "promotion" from a junior high to a high school - the physical act of attending a different school.

Most students in Missouri attend school districts in which junior high ends after
8th grade. They begin high school in 9th grade.

Columbia's 8-9, 10-12 grade configuration, however, would have caused each rule to be invoked in a separate year. The district sought the exception to the promotion rule to ensure Columbia's students are treated fairly, avoiding what school officials termed "double jeopardy."

Columbia students can play high school sports in ninth grade, while still attending what Columbia calls "junior high." Those sports are at the high school serving the area in which the student lives.

While attending junior high, a student may apply to the district administration for permission to transfer to the other high school for academic and social reasons.

The student would, therefore, also effectively transfer from one high school team to another. Such a transfer would make the student ineligible for athletics for one year.

Under Columbia's special exception, junior high students who plan to attend a different high school from the one serving the area in which they live should declare that intention before they leave eighth grade, said Hap Whitney, district director of athletics.

The transfer will cause ineligibility for varsity sports during 9th grade, as is the case for all Missouri high school students. The promotion rule, however, will not make the same student ineligible again upon attending a different school for 10th grade.

It can be a difficult situation to understand.

"It took me quite a while because of the grade configuration here," Barlow said. "If we were in a 6-8, 9-12 situation, this would not be a confusing piece." Many students in Columbia file for transfers during ninth grade. Barlow warned that every transfer case must still be dealt with individually.

"I could write up 25 scenarios and the first person to walk through that door wouldn't fit any of them," he said.

Students who wait until ninth grade to declare a transfer might be excluded from varsity athletics for a year following their transfer.

Students and parents with questions can contact Assistant Superintendent Lou Barlow at 886-2149.