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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

These Transfers Compromise Integrity of Sport

January 06, 2002|Eric Sondheimer

A three-year starting quarterback has decided to transfer from North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake to Pasadena Muir, which, academically, is like going from Harvard to Cal State Northridge.

Harvard-Westlake is a private school with student SAT averages above 1,300. Muir is a public school in which 75% of ninth graders who took the state high school exit exam last spring failed the math portion.

And yet no one so much as blinks when an athlete like Richard Irvin makes such a move.

No disrespect intended toward Muir, but it's a safe bet that he isn't transferring for academic reasons.

He has been Harvard-Westlake's starting quarterback since late in his freshman season. In the last two years, the Wolverines' record is 2-17. So what if he has been at the school since seventh grade? So what if he's leaving behind friends and teammates? His senior year is coming up, he wants to play college football, and he has concluded Muir offers a better athletic opportunity.

"The point of leaving is so my youngster can maximize his desires," said Irvin's mother, Helene.

Irvin, who's 6 feet 2, lives in Santa Monica but will commute to Pasadena with his father, who works in the area. He knows the program because his private quarterback coach, Steve Clarkson, is friends with Muir Coach Ron Mims. Another of Clarkson's private pupils, Ryan O'Hara, transferred to Muir last season from Monrovia.

Clarkson said he never told Irvin to transfer. "I don't tell a kid to leave or stay," he said. "I'm not their parent."

He said Irvin also sought information on Crescenta Valley, Mission Viejo, Huntington Beach Edison, Granada Hills and Westlake Village Oaks Christian.

Irvin's mother said she believes Harvard-Westlake's football team has deteriorated to the point her son has little confidence in the program succeeding. This week, the Wolverines didn't retain second-year Coach Chris Johnson and replaced him with freshman coach Greg Gonzalez.

Whether Irvin stayed or left, he has a better chance of making it to a top university with a good football team based on his intelligence and friendly personality than his playing skills.

Athletic scholarships are awarded on talent and individual ability, not on how a team performs. Playing at Muir doesn't mean he's suddenly going to move up in a recruiter's quarterback ratings.

O'Hara transferred to Muir and got a scholarship to Arizona, but he was recruited early--before he even played in a game for the Mustangs. Nothing he did this season at Muir influenced Arizona's decision.

Clarkson said Irvin is not a can't-miss college prospect.

"He's going to have to show somebody he can play football," he said.

The more important--and baffling--question is why parents repeatedly make decisions to let their sons and daughters transfer based on athletic reasons.

Irvin is the fourth high-profile quarterback in the last two years to transfer entering their senior year, joining O'Hara, Erik Vose and Rick Clausen--all Clarkson clients. Vose, Clausen and O'Hara all took the drastic step of changing residences to gain their eligibility. All had different reasons for needing to transfer.

Let's hope Irvin does well, because a diploma from Muir is not going to have the same impact on college admission officers as one from Harvard-Westlake.

The transfer game is also being played out at Van Nuys Montclair Prep. Ten years ago, the school received one of the harshest punishments ever from the Southern Section. The entire athletic program was put on probation and every team was barred from participating in the playoffs during the 1991-92 season for recruiting violations by the football program.

You'd think the Mounties would have learned something from their ordeal. But look what's happening with the boys' basketball program. They're getting so many transfers that Athletic Director Greg Reece might need to hire an FBI agent to help verify birth certificates and passports.

Last season, the Mounties got tall transfers from Yugoslavia, Cameroon and Germany. Last month, 6-8 junior Nick Stigger from Memphis, Tenn., checked in.

Reece said he'll determine this week whether Stigger is eligible to play for the Mounties.

Newspaper reports out of Memphis said Stigger left to improve his academic standing. He was averaging 20.8 points for Hillcrest High.

Maybe all these players just found their way to Montclair Prep because they heard Mounties Coach Tyrone Fuller is a bright, energetic young coach.

Whatever the reason, Fuller is just doing what most coaches do--welcome transfer students with open arms. And that's the problem. Rarely does anyone say no to a transfer student.

At some point, though, there's going to be a revolt. And there should be. How many transfers is it going to take before players and parents say enough? How many home-grown players are going to have to lose their starting positions before someone challenges a coach or principal?

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