High school sports recruiting special investigation

7:16 PM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Money, fame, the life so many young athletes dream of -- it can all start under those Friday night lights.

Every year, high school sports turn Atlanta-area athletes into local superstars. And every year, many say it turns parents and coaches into players themselves.

Make no mistake, of course -- high school sports have always been a big deal. But it used to be, players pretty much played for the schools where they grew up. Now, it's a whole new ball game.

"It has become more of a business pursuit than a recreational pursuit," said Dr. Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association.

"Parents are looking for the best situation for their kids, in many cases wherever they can get a scholarship opportunity," said Dexter Wood, athletic director at Buford High School. "And so they start shopping kids."

"Shopping kids" - what does that really mean?

Sometimes it means accusations like one month ago, when Shiloh High School's football coach, Brian Montgomery, was accused of convincing four players to follow him from his old school to his new one. Not long after, Rockdale High football coach Mario Allen was accused of driving a possibly transferring child to practice. Both coaches lost their jobs.

RELATED | Shiloh High football coach resigns amid recruiting allegations

In other cases, parents allow a coach to become the legal guardian of their child, just so the child can play for that coach's school. Last fall, Justin Taylor was allowed to follow his coach Stanley Pritchett to North Atlanta. Pritchett became Taylor's legal guardian, so the player was able to live with the coach -- without breaking any rules.

Then there's a practice many talk about but rarely see ... players who don't live at the address they claim on their athletic forms. Florida's High School Athletic Association just completed an investigation in which it found five football players falsified information to get into Armwood High School in Tampa. That school went on to win a state title -- a title it will have to forfeit if the FHSAA's report is upheld.

However, for the most part, when we talk about transferring, we are talking about the best athletes going to the best programs and winning championships. These players usually don't move illegally; they just move more than ever before.

Dr. Swearngin, head of the GHSA, acknowledged the rampant transferring is getting out of control.

"Yes, I think so," Dr. Swearngin said, "And I think we've gotta understand too that the people who complain the most forget one basic thing: we live in a free country. The GHSA or anybody else cannot tell a family that they cannot move during their child's high school career."

When asked if he thought his organization had "created a monster," Dr. Swearngin responded, "I think the media has created a monster."

Of course, college recruiting and high school sports in general have become a massive business. In addition, the officials in charge -- both of the schools and the teams -- are quick to point the finger at one other major factor: the parents.

"There are many parents who believe their child is destined to be the next Division I star, when the reality is such a small percentage," Swearngin said.

"A lot of the time, parents don't really have any perspective on how good their kid is," said Walton football coach Rocky Hidalgo.
"They're the worst judge of talent when it comes to their kid."

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