March 31, 2004 1 min read

Eligibility Rules

Seventeen-year-old Rachael Waller spends 35 hours a week at swim practice, has caught the eye of scouts from Division I colleges, and is close to making the cut for Olympic-trial events.

One thing she hasn’t done is swim a single lap for her high school in Liberty, Mo.

The junior would love to be on the team, but under a rule set by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, athletes can’t compete for both private club teams and their schools.

Since she was 10, Rachael has competed for the Kansas City Blazers, one of the best swim clubs in the state.

“I miss out on the high school aspect,” she said in an interview this month. “I don’t get to experience high school sports. It’s unfair. I shouldn’t be limited to what I do outside of school.”

Kathy Waller, Rachael’s mother, and many other parents in the state see the rule as absurd. That’s why they have pushed lawmakers to introduce a bill now pending before the Missouri legislature that would change the regulation.

“If adults put the interest of the child first, the answer becomes obvious,” said Ms. Waller, who traveled to the state Capitol recently to give testimony before legislators.

Ms. Waller said she has received at least a thousand e-mails from students, parents, and coaches around the state in support of the rule change.

State athletic or activities associations around the country handle the issue of whether to permit students to compete for both school teams and outside teams differently. Some elite athletes, who say they receive better coaching and are exposed to stronger competition on club teams, are even opting out of high school teams altogether. (“Athletic Choice: Students Shun School Teams,” Oct. 8, 2003.)

Rick Kindhart, the communications director for Missouri’s activities association, says the group does not support the proposed legislation because it would undermine schools’ autonomy.

“The legislation ties the hands of schools for imposing any restrictions on students,” he said. “A student would have free rein to miss school time.”

But state Rep. Bryan Stevenson, a Republican, wants to see the rule changed. “A large group of my constituents have gone to the school board and been rebuffed,” he said. “They have tried working with the activities association, but they haven’t gotten anywhere. The bottom line for me is parental control.”

—John Gehring