Earlier this year, we warned that the new transfer rule for student-athletes instituted by the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) would discourage student-athletes from taking advantage of open enrollment. The recent case of Conner Martinez is one example of how this new rule penalizes students who want to attend the best school available to them.
Conner Martinez attended ninth grade at Bennion Junior High, which feeds into Taylorsville High School. He planned to attend Taylorsville this fall, but after assessing the overall experience he would likely have at the school, Conner decided to attend West Jordan instead. One reason is that he and his parents were concerned that his older brother had not received proper academic attention for his special needs, and, generally, they were unsatisfied with the performance of the school’s teachers and some of the social trends developing at Taylorsville.
Bennion ninth-graders can play on the Taylorsville High School team, so Conner had some experience on the team. However, that did not go as well as he had hoped. He practiced with the team during summer workouts last year but was injured during two-a-days. After recovering, he ended up playing in three or four games later last fall but only for limited downs.
In any case, according to Conner and his mother, his choice to attend West Jordan had less to do with athletics than with academics and the school’s overall environment. He wanted to attend a high school where he thought his chances for succeeding in every aspect of high school would be greatest.
This fall, Conner went to every West Jordan football practice and purchased the required equipment and attire. The day before the school’s first game, coaches told him he had to speak with the UHSAA before being cleared to play. The UHSAA had him fill out some paperwork and summoned him for a hearing. After the hearing, UHSAA officials decided that according to their transfer rule Conner would have to sit out an entire year in all sports because he had participated in football at Taylorsville. [pullquote]The UHSAA is a private organization that acts as a gatekeeper to tax-funded programs in public schools.[/pullquote]
According to his mother, Teresa Martinez, Conner is devastated that he cannot play this year. She said the ruling stings especially because Conner was hoping to participate not only in football but also in basketball and baseball this year. The UHSAA will not allow him to participate in any sports, even though he did not play basketball or baseball at Taylorsville.
Mrs. Martinez also says she is disappointed because Conner was trying to do what was right and the consequences of transferring were not made clear to them. She believes the UHSAA and high schools need to explain eligibility rules more clearly and the consequences of ineligibility related to those rules. West Jordan is allowing Conner to participate with team management as a non-athlete, but relegating him to being an assistant is little consolation for a young man who loves athletics.
The transfer rule for student-athletes needs to be changed. There is no legitimate reason for denying Conner the opportunity to participate in athletics at West Jordan. He did not transfer primarily for athletic reasons and is not an “elite” athlete – he just wants athletics to be part of his high school experience. By the way, Conner and his parents cannot appeal the UHSAA’s decision to anyone within the public school system. They were told their only option for recourse is to sue the UHSAA.
The UHSAA designed its transfer rule to prevent “elite” athletes from transferring, but it penalizes all student-athletes by not allowing them to transfer and continue participating in athletics unless they can prove they have experienced a “hardship.”
The UHSAA is a private organization that acts as a gatekeeper to tax-funded programs in public schools. Its rules prevent students from taking advantage of programs their families pay for with tax dollars, although the state’s open-enrollment law allows students to transfer from one high school to another for any reason.
The transfer window we have proposed would allow students like Conner to transfer under open enrollment and remain eligible for athletics, and it would also maintain adequate stability for high schools. We encourage the UHSAA, and the state Legislature if necessary, to enact our proposal for the benefit of student-athletes.