As many as 10 young men each year are getting special dispensation to play high school football and then dropping out of school once the season ends.
The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association is monitoring attendance of students granted an extra year of eligibility, and is tracking how many drop out after their season ends.
About 20 students successfully appeal for an extra year of eligibility in high school sports each year, and only about half of them stay in school for the entire academic year, MHSAA executive director Morris Glimcher said Wednesday.
"There's a good 50 per cent" who drop out after a sports season ends, and most of them are football players, Glimcher said. "In lots of cases, it is a superior player."
No student can play high school sports if he or she turns 19 on or before Aug. 31, and every student is limited to four years of sports eligibility from grades 9 to 12.
But every year, students lose a year of sports for a wide variety of reasons, Glimcher said. They may be injured in the first game of the year and be out all year, for all sports.
There have been appeals lodged because students dropped out of school or of varsity sports because of illness, family issues, failing courses, pregnancy, "hanging out with the wrong kids", and even because they went to jail, he said.
Students who appeal successfully receive an extra fifth year of eligibility for all sports, not just their favourite specific one, he pointed out.
MHSAA is watching those students to make sure that school remains a priority.
"We put in attendance standards -- we've cancelled some (special eligibility) in midstream over attendance," he said.
"The philosophy is, you're getting a second chance, don't blow it. Skip class, you're toast.
"We get reports on one student every Monday," Glimcher said.
Until the late 1990s, each sport had a local appeals committee. That ended when Winnipeg School Division trustees held several lengthy and stormy meetings before overturning the eligibility committee's ruling, and ordering that a student be allowed to join Sisler High School for a fifth season of football.
The student had already graduated from St. Paul's High School, and lived in the Maples Collegiate catchment area. He dropped out of Sisler right after football season.
MHSAA board members made up of educators and administrators from across Manitoba now rule on appeals in all sports, once area MHSAA members have recommended approval, Glimcher said.
They turn down about half a dozen each year, he said. One recent rejection was a student who wanted to leave his high school to play volleyball at another high school even though his school had a volleyball team, then transfer back to his original high school for basketball season.
Students granted an extra year who play sports other than football are carefully monitored for attendance before their seasons get under way later in the school year, Glimcher said.
While there is nothing that MHSAA can do if a student wants to drop out after a sports season ends, the association is tracking statistics to help with future policy decisions on eligibility, Glimcher said.