"All five were coming through the same program," Cato said. "One of our ex-coaches was dating a lady who was making the placements. That brought about us strengthening the rules."
Cato said the rule has kept students who grew up in a school district from being bumped from the varsity by an exchange student.
"On one hand, it's an injustice," Cato said, "but we have to be fair with the kids who have been with us throughout the years."
Granite Hills Athletic Director Coy Owens disagreed.
"I like to think that if an American went over to Finland, they'd get the chance to compete on the varsity," said Owens, whose family is hosting an exchange student from Finland, swimmer Suvi Etu-Prami. "It's a mutual chance to work in a different framework."
Foreign exchange students face challenges unlike their American counterparts. Besides adjusting to a new language and culture, they are living with an unfamiliar host family.
Ruth Ratner of La Mesa, a national board member and San Diego coordinator for American Field Service International for 30 years, said of primary importance in placing a student is the role of the host family.
"If there's a brother or sister who is very active in sports, a natural bond can be established," Ratner said. "If someone is a runner, you can't put them with a couch potato."
Golfer Caroline Rasmussen of Mount Miguel has established that bond. She changed host families in December and now has a "brother" who plays golf with her and drives her to team practices.
"We look for specific needs to be met and try to equate all things," Ratner said. "You can't say, oh, Granite Hills has a great basketball team so we'll put them there. I can't even remember getting requests like that. But in looking for a host family, you may require that someone's interested in those things."
The exchanges are an eye-opening experience for the host as well.
"It's like having two daughters," said Owens. "It's exposure to another culture. We have a son in eighth grade and we plan on having another exchange student when he's in high school."
Jeff Ukrainetz, Mt. Carmel's swimming coach, has had several positive experiences with foreign athletes.
"Those foreign exchange students are just top-notch kids," he said. "They're polite and they'll do anything to help the team. It's a pleasure to coach them."
FOREIGN ATHLETES COMPETING IN SAN DIEGO
Name School Sport Homeland Michaela Corner Oceanside Girls' Swimming West Germany Alfonso de la Nuez Ramona Tennis Spain Suvi Etu-Prami Granite Hills Girls' Swimming Finland Tom Giesen Poway Tennis West Germany Christoffer Hansen University City Badminton Denmark Tarja Jantunen Monte Vista Girls' Swimming Finland Tom Koenig Mira Mesa Tennis West Germany Tim Kreysing La Jolla Tennis West Germany Markus Labruier Valhalla Boys' Swimming West Germany Francois Lentz Mt. Carmel Girls' Swimming Luxembourg Nicolas Malotki Mar Vista Tennis West Germany Jose Medrano Bishop's Tennis Bolivia Sergio Montessimos Valhalla Tennis Spain Jerome Poignard Santana Boys' Swimming France Caroline Rasmussen Mount Miguel Golf Denmark Steve Santiago San Diego Volleyball Spain Hubert Sasker San Pasqual Tennis Holland Eva Sonnerup Monte Vista Girls' Track Denmark Mikiko Suzuki Monte Vista Girls' Swimming Japan Heike Zenzinger El Camino Girls' Swimming West Germany
Source: San Diego high school athletic directors