California cracking down? C.I.F. throws blow!

The following article was reprinted from the Union Tribune in San Diego. Is Arizona next?

Prep athletes get choice: Be true to school or club

By Steve Brand

January 22, 2003

San Diego's governing body for high school sports took a bold move yesterday by passing a rule it hopes will limit the influence of club teams.

Starting July 1, high school athletes won't be permitted to practice with their club teams during the season of their school sport. If they want to train with their club, they must quit their school team.

The ruling by the CIF-San Diego Section's Board of Managers caught many by surprise and is the latest move in a growing conflict between club sports and high school competition.

Reactions were strong, especially in swimming, gymnastics and soccer.

"This is serious. I believe they're trying to get rid of swimming," said Dick Draz, a section championship meet director. "They must be trying to go back to offering only football, basketball, baseball and track."

Draz estimated that close to 90 percent of the athletes competing in last year's section finals were club swimmers. Eliminating them would cause the level of competition to sink significantly.

"I doubt there will be very many nonclub swimmers who will be able to even make the time standard," Draz said. "There will never be another record set."

Mt. Carmel High junior Eddie Erazo, the two-time section Division I backstroke champion, said no doubt exists which way he would go if forced to choose between his club team and high school.

"I'd definitely pick club over high school," Erazo said. "Not taking anything away from the high school coaches, but if I had to just swim high school workouts, my training level and performance would go down.

"After high school, there are some major U.S. Swim meets and you can't have down time during the high school season.

"There is a team component to high school swimming I'd miss. Some meets are very exciting. But you can't forget your main focus."

Members of the Board of Managers acknowledged that the new rule would force some tough decisions.

"We view it as high school athletics for high school athletes," said Joseph Graybeal, associate superintendent of the Oceanside school district. "Our objective is not to prep athletes for college or pro sports.

"I'm not anti-club. If we lose two or three club athletes, maybe others will feel they'll have a better chance to participate and come out.

"We're coming to a time where a high school athlete has to make a choice between making millions and playing high school sports. It will be up to the student to make that decision."

Before yesterday's decision, athletes were not allowed to compete in games, matches or events with their club teams during the season but could still practice with the club team.

The new rule is specific, requiring athletes in all sports who are also on club teams to make a decision during the season of sport.

For sports like football, with no club teams, it's an easy decision. But year-round sports like swimming and soccer or skill-specific sports like gymnastics and track could be impacted.

"I think it's wrong, even though I don't get a lot of club athletes," said Mt. Carmel gymnastics coach Monique Lamphiere-Tamayoshi, whose Sundevils girls have won seven of the past 11 section championships.

"I understand what they're trying to accomplish, but this isn't the answer. When club athletes get to the optional level, they need training every day. The likelihood of a CIF champion without a club background is very slim.

"If they're trying to eliminate gymnastics, this rule will do it. I'll definitely be at the next Board of Managers meeting" – where an appeal could be made to reverse the ruling.

She won't be alone.

One of the main concerns expressed among coaches was that their sport was never informed of the possible change and never given a chance to tell what the impact might be to the Board of Managers.

Not one coach attended yesterday's meeting at the Escondido district office. Graybeal said he was not aware of any input by any of the sports, although the new rule was first passed by the Coordinating Council and carried the recommendation of the section staff.

USDHS soccer coach Dawn Lee said she, too, would have been an interested spectator at the meeting.

"I had no idea this was coming up," Lee said. "I feel like we're not involved.

"Unfortunately, this is going to force the kids to draw the line. I'm scared some of them might choose not to play high school because, let's face it, they're not getting scholarships from how they play in high school.

"Why change things? I haven't seen any kids overworked – and that's something that should be up to the discretion of the parents anyway."

Kelly Whitehouse, a junior at West Hills, said if she had to choose between volleyball at the club level or high school, it wouldn't even be close. She'd pick club.

But she said that during the season there is no conflict since the club activity ends before the start of high school and doesn't start again until afterward.

With one exception.

"The question is, could I get one-on-one help from my club coach if I needed it?" said Whitehouse, who has played with the San Diego Volleyball Club since seventh grade.

It's one of the questions lots of coaches and players are asking.

Coronado tennis coach Robbin Adair, who has been plying his trade for 35 years, said he's never had trouble with club athletes, because he has a standard rule.

"I tell them they can play club whenever they want on weekends," he said, "but the rest of the week they play for me. The only area I'd wonder about is a lot of the best kids set up games on weekends with adults. Does that count as club?"

Club coaches, too, have questions.

Pat Tope of the Heartland Swim Association draws swimmers from as many as 12 East County high schools and has always encouraged them to swim for their high school.

"It will have huge implications," Tope said. "It puts the kids between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

"Of the 100 high school swimmers on our team, I'd guess the top 50 would have to look real hard at the situation. I'm in shock."

Staff writer Nicole Vargas contributed to this story.

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