Questions abound in prep athletic transfers

Prep Sports

(ALERT: The sports editor of The Daily Press has issued an advisory. Due to hazardous winter weather conditions canceling many area sporting events the past two nights, Mike Mattson was forced into an impromptu assignment. He fired up his laptop computer to produce an opinion on high school sports. Readers are advised to stay off the roads, pull up a chair with your favorite beverage (warm or cold) and enjoy the following commentary).

ESCANABA — Have you been following the Thomas Kithier fiasco in downstate Clarkston?

Quick background: Kithier used to attend Macomb Dakota High School, where he was a student and talented basketball player. The Michigan State signee decided to transfer last summer to defending Class A state champion Clarkston for his senior season.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association was alerted, reviewed a Dakota complaint and ruled Kithier ineligible for 180 days (the entire current school year) due to evidence of an athletically-motivated transfer. Kithier and his family say the transfer was for academic reasons.

For the record, Kithier played summer basketball with Clarkston guard and fellow MSU signee Foster Loyer so there was a little smoke surrounding this transfer. You know, like why didn’t Kithier transfer to (fill in any other school in Michigan for better book work)?

Lawyers are involved and the case is running its course through the legal system.

At a preliminary injunction Thursday, U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani ruled Kithier does not have a constitutional right to play extra-curricular sports. She noted if his transfer to Clarkston was motivated by academics, there’s no need to reinstate him for athletics.

Battani ruled the MHSAA writes, enforces and interprets its own rules for member schools who voluntarily join its organization. She agreed with the MHSAA’s claim that Kithier’s transfer may harm competitive equity.

So Kithier continues to be ineligible to participate in athletics for the duration of his trial against the MHSAA and Chippewa Valley Schools.

One of Kithier’s lawyers, Steve Fishman, says his client was “screwed over.”

What do you think?

I think it’s too bad high school sports have progressed to this point. Transfers have been happening for years and they will continue for years. What happened to the good old days when kids and families stayed true to their schools?

I believe most transfers are athletically motivated. And when they happen for a senior year, I believe they are 100 percent athletically motivated.

If the academic setting at a high school is not desirable, why would a family wait until the senior season to change the situation — especially when the student athlete has signed a Division I letter of intent with a major university?

I remember talking to the late Jerry Cvengros when he was working for the MHSAA and sifting through a lot of these transfer issues. You could see in his eyes how difficult a lot of these cases are, filtering through the smoke to prove whether transfers are motivated by academics or athletics.

I saw many transfers during my work in West Michigan. I saw kids transfer for varsity seasons from some of the top academic schools in the state to the “football schools.” It

happened in girls’ sports, too.

I remember thinking, “At least this transfer stuff doesn’t happen in the U.P.” Wrong. Since I’ve relocated to the U.P., it seems there’s not much of a difference proportionately to the population and schools.

It’s been nice for me to bump into some of my former high school teammates like Chris Murray, Kevin Young and Mike Beveridge. I can’t imagine feeling comfortable around these guys if I had transferred to another Delta County high school.

Personally, I don’t care if kids and their families want to transfer. We still live in a somewhat free country where the choice of schools is available.

The question will always be: What is the true motivation?

But as this Kithier case shows, there are rules and athletic motivations should and will be scrutinized.

Often, where there is smoke there is fire. And it looks like Kithier likely will get burned when this case is done.

(ALERT: It appears the hazardous winter weather conditions have subsided. The Daily Press sports editor advises that you may return to the roads and enjoy a chilly weekend in the beautiful Upper Peninsula).