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Prep Schools' Use of Transfer Players in Sports May Lead to Success, but Often Raises Eyebrows !

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Potomac, Md--The Harker Preparatory School, a private day school in this affluent Washington suburb, had a very successful son on the basketball court this year.

The team had a 21-2 record, including a second-place finish at a holiday tourna ment in Hawaii and first place at a major tournament in Las Vegas. Although it was )
not eligible to compete in the Maryland state basketball championships, which are open only to public schools, Harker fin)3 ished third in a regional ranking of teams nation in the final USA Today "Super 25" boys'-basketball rankings.)

The school's accomplishments are all the more remarkable in light of the fact that it enrolls only 65 students.

While many point to the hiring of a new basketball coach with a long record of win) ning as a key element in Harker's success, others note that the school's use of transfer players--including a 7-foot-3-inch-tall ju), nior from the Netherlands--also played a role in its winning season.

But the school's use of such students for athletics, including a few over-age and 7 academically troubled players in the re)2 cent past, and its overall approach to build) ing a winning athletic tradition, have ran) kled some other coaches in the Washington area, many of whom refuse to schedule 2" games against Harker.) #

"The athletic program should be reflective )$ of your students," says John Moylan, princi)% pal of De Matha Catholic High School in Hy attsville, Md., which itself is an athletic pow)' erhouse. "I'm not going to schedule a school that has fifth-year players.")

Harker's image problem highlights a1

  • 6growing concern among educators over L 9+ secondary-school sports programs.3

In its final report issued last month, for )%- example, the Knight Foundation Commis),. sion on Intercollegiate Athletics, a blue-rib)/ bon panel, warned that "some secondary-),0 school programs now emulate the worst 71 features of too many collegiate programs."3

'Room for Abuse' 3(

Although many students transfer from 4 school to school for academic or other rea)5 sons, questions are often raised about 6 whether students who transfer do so at the coaxing of a high-school coach.

"There is definitely room for abuse at the )9 secondary-school level," says Stu Vetter, ),: the basketball coach at Harker Prep, who ); denies that the school recruits athletes. < "You have recruiting that goes on even at )= the junior-high-school level.")>

In summers, coaches say, some athletic )? directors can be seen at basketball camps at schools, churches, and playgrounds, es pecially in large cities such as New York, )

Chicago, and Washington.)

Concerns about student transfers usua ly center around private schools, which are restricted by the attendance bound)5 aries of most public high schools, and thus can usually enroll athletes and non-ath letes alike from a wider geographic area.

Such concerns have led to penalties and )
rules changes in some states. Last year, for example:

Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., a Roman Catholic high school with drew objections and a flurry of local press coverage when it enrolled two cousins who had led their previous private school to success on the football field.

In 1988, Mater Dei had been put on pro)bation by officials of the California Inter % scholastic Federation for using undue in fluence to recruit three student-athletes.

But Lyle Porter, the principal of Mater Dei, said the two students in question last fall came to the school without being recruit) ed and are scheduled to graduate this year.)

Osceola High School in Florida had to forfeit 20 basketball victories for the a0 leged recruiting of a 6-foot-7 center from a Miami high school.) The Illinois High School Association rejected a proposal from public schools that all private schools be bumped up a class in )" football and basketball because they often # dominate the state playoffs.

"It is perceived by some that nonpublic )% schools in Illinois have an unfair advan),& tage over public schools because there are )' no attendance boundaries for them," says Don Robinson, assistant executive secre) tary of the ihsa0

A new rule by the New York State + Public High School Athletic Association )., took effect that bars a student who trans- fers schools without a corresponding . change in address from a sport he or she / played the previous year. The rule is essen tially aimed at private-school transfers, 31 and several other state high-school athleH)%2 tic organizations have similar rules.)Boon to Enrollments 4(

Despite their success on the court, offi5 cials at Harker Prep argue vehemently 26 that their school does not overemphasize )%7 athletics at the expense of academics.3

If anything, they say, the rigorous aca)%9 demic demands of the small school keep : athletics in their place and allow some unH); derachieving student-athletes the oppor< tunity to improve their skills to meet the )= freshman-eligibility requirements of theLel10lNational Collegiate Athletic Association.;?

"A strong basketball program can help motivate the student-athlete to be a better student," says Mr. Vetter.)

But school officials acknowledge that rais) ing the caliber of the basketball program has brought publicity to the school and may ultimately result in a stronger enrollment. Harker Prep is in a competitive enrollment environment, with several distinguished

private college-preparatory schools in near by Washington suburbs.)

"Where do you read about schools in the newspaper these days?" asks Chris ' Kieffer, the headmaster of the school. "It's either in the sports pages or in the news section when there is a disaster.'')"I don't expect enrollment to jump sig6nificantly next year" due to the basketball

team's success, Mr. Kieffer adds. "But I ex) pect that when the dust settles, it will im) prove.")

Until last year, Harker Prep played in a league made up of several small private = schools in the Washington area. When school officials decided they wanted to upgrade the level of basketball played at the school, they enrolled two talented basketball players who had encountered academic difficulty in the ). District of Columbia public schools.

One player had already graduated from one Washington high school, and the other had been declared academically ineligible at another. Harker officials arranged for their $6,300 tuition to be paid, and demot) ed them academically.)

Mr. Kieffer said the second student could

not adjust to the academics of the private school, and was dismissed after missing too many classes.)


For this year, the school hired a new bas) ketball coach--Mr. Vetter, who in 15 years at Flint Hill Preparatory School, a private high school in nearby Oakton, Va., had amassed a record of 348-58.

Mr. Vetter brought two transfer players with him when he changed jobs, including the 7-foot-3 center from the Netherlands, Serge Zwikker.

Harker faced no limitations on playing transfer students because private schools in Maryland are not part of the state high-) school athletic association. The school had a stellar season, finishing with its nearly unmarred record and its first-ever spot in the final USA Today national rankings.

'Not Very Healthy' 7(

But other coaches in the Washington 3 area have worried aloud that the Harker program grew too quickly through the use of players who did not come up through the school or from its base community.

"When you have a situation where kids come from all over creation to go to a private school, or they are given scholarships to come play, it's not very healthy," says Mr. Moylan of De Matha. He adds that virtually every mem) ber of De Matha's undefeated basketball team entered the school as freshmen. The team fin) ished 30-0 and was ranked Number 8 in the nation by USA Today.0

Mr. Kieffer declines to provide details about the financial aid given to student- athletes, saying only that many students at the school receive aid.

He also argues that the school deserves credit for worrying about the academic 5 skills as much as the athletic abilities of these student-athletes, who have often > been advanced through the public school )% system without concern about their lack of academic progress.

"What is being sacrificed in too many 3 places is letting the kids play sports, but not making sure they learn anything," Mr. > Kieffer says. "I probably get a couple of calls a week from athletes who have reached the end [of their high-school careers] but don't have the tickets" to get into college.0

Both he and Mr. Vetter say Harker does not recruit student-athletes.0

"We are not in the business of recruiting basketball players," the coach says. "The good players will find the good programs.")

Mr. Vetter does not see the dangers that some others do in seeking a national rank ing or playing in tournaments across the ), country.0

"Traveling is an educational experience in itself," he says, adding that the team will again go to Hawaii next season. Since the trip is during the school's long Christ) mas break, no school is missed, he says.0

This summer, young basketball players will have the opportunity to learn about the school at its first basketball camp.)

"Now, people will know where Harker Prep is," Mr. Vetter says.)

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