The blogs on WIAA Classification and TSD Athletic performance generated a number of inquires about the policies on transfer students when it comes to athletic programs. In particular, I have been in Tumwater long enough to hear plenty of complaints that students transfer to TSD, and specifically THS, for athletics. I prefer data over assumptions or guesses, so I wanted to do some research and see if I could come to any conclusions. We did some research, and came up with some answers to several questions that we thought might be of interest to our followers.
WHAT IS TSD’S POLICY ON TRANSFERRING FOR ATHLETICS
I could find no express policy with respect to whether or not transfers for athletics are encouraged or discouraged in TSD. In fact, TSD’s transfer application does not even have a spot to list the reason for transferring. While I doubt many people would explicitly indicate a transfer is sought for athletics, there is no opportunity to do so on the application.
In fact, it appears to me that the coaches and athletic directors have very limited knowledge as to whether or not an athlete is a transfer student. When I asked, many coaches had no idea whether athletes were resident students or transfers. From what I can tell, once a student is admitted as a transfer he or she is simply integrated with the rest of the population.
I am aware that there are rumors of athletes being recruited to transfer to TSD schools. Our investigation, and my experience, found no evidence of any instance where that occurred. I am certainly not implying that I conducted an exhaustive investigation, but I am pretty familiar with the THS and BHHS athletic programs and can say I found no basis to support any contention of recruiting.
IS A TRANSFER STUDENT RESTRICTED FROM PARTICIPATING IN ATHLETIC CONTESTS?
With one limited exception, transfer students face no additional restrictions with respect to participation in athletic contests. The one exception is that a transfer student is ineligible to participate in varsity athletic contests within 12 months of a transfer. There are no restrictions with participation in subvarsity athletics.
Notably, to participate as a freshman, a student must establish residency(or transfer status) at the 8th grade feeder school. As an example, a student residing in another district who initially transferred to TSD as a freshman would be ineligible to play varsity until the sophomore year. However, a student who transferred to Bush Middle School as an 8th grader, and then was accepted as a transfer to THS as a 9th grader, would be eligible to play varsity as a 9th grader.
ARE THERE EXCEPTIONS SO THAT TRANSFERS DO NOT HAVE TO SIT OUT A YEAR?
Yes. The exceptions are set forth in Section 18 of the WIAA rules. My experience is that there are a couple commonly used exceptions.
Students who transfer after attending a private school(Evergreen Christian, St. Michaels, etc) do not have to sit out a year. So, a student who (1)resides outside the boundaries of TSD, (2) went to private school through 8th grade, and (3) is accepted as a transfer student at TSD would not have to sit out the 12 months.
Similarly, a student who attended K-8 in a District that does not have a high school(Griffin School District) also does not have to sit out the 12 months.
There are also other exceptions, but, from what I can tell, the other exceptions are infrequently used.
CAN ATHLETES OBTAIN WAIVERS?
Athletes can apply for a hardship waiver. My understanding is that hardships are very difficult to obtain. In speaking with the ADs, it sounds like hardships are only granted in rare circumstances, usually associated with traumatic life events. An example provided by an AD was that a student was the victim of a violent crime at their prior school, and thus transferred for safety reasons, so a waiver was granted. Notably, the waiver cannot be granted if there is any evidence that it is sought for athletic purposes. In addition, the decision is made by a committee appointed by WIAA, and not by the local school. I think hardship waivers are few and far between.
WHAT IS THE RATIO OF TRANSFER AND RESIDENT STUDENTS PARTICIPATING IN ATHLETICS IN TSD?
As a refresher, for most schools in our area about 2-5% of the general population of students at any given high school are transfer students. The rate at BHHS is about 6%, while the rate at THS is about 13%. Here is a link to the prior blog discussing transfers.
In short, the participation rate of transfer students in athletics at TSD was fairly surprising to me. Let me first say that I found no evidence anyone was breaking any rules. THS has a policy which liberally accepts transfers, a policy which is not prohibited by TSD or WIAA. Transfer students go through an application process which was created, and is carried out, by TSD. A little side note—TSD has formed a committee to review the transfer policy. For more info on that topic, see the latest blog by Tami.
I surveyed 5 boys teams and 5 girls teams, with no real preference other than the rosters were easy to obtain and I felt 10 teams was a representative sample. I picked THS because most of the inquiries we received were about THS, and to a lesser degree, it was easier to figure out transfer/resident status as we are more familiar with those families and have better connections when investigating.
I obtained the most recent varsity rosters and used public property records, social media and old fashioned one on one conversations to determine how many players did not reside within TSD. Here are the parameters under which I operated:
—-If I was uncertain, I counted the athlete as living within the TSD boundaries.
—-Because it was too hard to distinguish via public records, I counted all players living within TSD as resident athletes even though some of them should be at BHHS.
—-Because the football roster is so large, I just looked at the 21 starters for one of the playoff games. With all other teams, I used the entire varsity roster.
—-VARSITY= total # of players on the roster. TRANSFER=total # of transfer students on the varsity roster
—-I used the roster for the most recent playing season.
TSD’s general student population is 13% transfers students. Prior to conducting the research, based upon my general observations being around the programs, I figured the rate at which transfers students participated in extra curricular activities was a little higher than the general population. However, I did not anticipate the data would reveal 30% of the athletes on the varsity teams reside outside TSD.
Once again, as far as I can tell, everyone is playing by the rules. That being said, my opinion is that the data highlights a couple problems that should be addressed. The most concerning aspect for me is that THS has a pretty significant “double whammy” when it comes to creating a competitive advantage over its peers.
1. THS is one of largest 2A schools, so its player pool is already larger than virtually every school against whom it competes in the 2A classification. In the last go around, THS had the 5th largest population of all 2A schools(about 65 schools in total). THS has over 200 more students than every other EVCO school. This time around, it appears as if TSD is very near the 2A/3A line of demarcation(900 students). The larger pool from which to draw athletes invariably brings more talent to the THS teams when compared with smaller 2A schools.
2. Compounding that advantage, THS has an inordinate number of varsity level athletes transferring in, which significantly elevates the talent pool from which it selects its varsity athletes. If 13% of the students are transfers, one would expect transfers would occupy about 13% of the varsity spots. Transfers occupying 30% of the varsity spots indicates that the rate at which transfers participate is much greater than the rate of participation of the resident students. This is an advantage is unique to THS given the fact that no other school accepts anywhere near the same amount of transfers.
This competitive advantage has been realized with an unprecedented success rate, as documented in my blog about the athletic performances of THS and BHHS over the last 3 years(TSD teams win about 74% of their games and have won 43% of the EVCO titles over the past 3 years).
Another side effect of transfer students occupying 30% of the varsity spots is the realization that many resident students are denied opportunities to participate at the varsity level. I will note that most THS sports practice a “no cut” policy so that very few students are denied the chance to participate in the overall programs, but there are only so many varsity spots. There are clearly many varsity spots occupied by transfer students that would otherwise be occupied by resident students. Many resident students who are playing on the JV or C teams would be playing varsity but for the transfers students occupying those spots.
THS is a popular destination for transfers, and THS routinely accepts transfers at a much greater rate than any other school in the area. All schools accept some transfers(usually in the 3-5% range) and it makes no sense to strictly prohibit all transfers. Further, the transfer students should be treated no different than resident students once admitted.
Once again, I do not begrudge any family for opting to do what is best for their particular student athlete. An accepted transfer student that earns a varsity spot should not be penalized, or judged, because he or she does not reside within the TSD boundaries. The data does however highlight the fact that TSD has, likely unintentionally, created a situation that has resulted in a less than ideal environment in some regards and TSD should take corrective action.
It is no secret that I believe THS does not face adequate competition, especially in the Evergreen Conference, and should definitely bump up to the 3A classification. According to timeline put forth by WIAA, that application must be made within the next week or so.
While no transfer policy should be driven by athletics, the imbalance revealed by the data in this blog provides yet another reason to develop a more deliberate, and equitable, transfer policy that puts the needs of the resident students at the forefront. Doing so would undoubtedly result in more competitive athletic contests, which would be better for all the athletes involved.
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