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'Redshirt' rule eyed to level school-sports playing field

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Manitoba student athletes who switch high schools may have to sit out a year of eligibility starting in September.

Plagued by complaints of top athletes using schools of choice to stack teams for a chance at a provincial championship, the Manitoba High Schools Athletics Association will likely vote this spring on imposing a 'redshirt' rule.

Already in place in most provinces and U.S. states, the rule would require transferring students to give up a year of varsity sports unless they could meet stringent criteria.

"Going from Grade 11 to 12, that's when you have the biggest impact," MHSAA executive director Morris Glimcher said. "You get two or three kids transferring in -- is that morally ethical?

"As of today, is it legal? Yes. Is it right?" Glimcher asked.

The MHSAA hears about most transfers from parents of kids who get shunted to the bench or even cut when new players arrive from other schools in the senior year of high school. Glimcher believes at least a dozen top Grade 12 athletes have switched high schools this year specifically to pursue a provincial championship.

There could be exceptions made for students whose families moved between school years, who are moving to escape bullying, or whose parents split, necessitating the custodial parent's moving.

A vote would come at the association's annual meeting in Gimli this June.

"If we want to say, 'If you want to transfer you sit out a year,' we have that authority in our statutes," Glimcher said.

Education Minister Nancy Allan deferred to the civil service to respond to an interview request, and the province would not address who would have the final say.

The MHSAA has yet to devise a policy, said a department of education official. "Until then, the department won't comment. The department is in regular dialogue with their education partners."

Ontario has had a strict policy since 1986, said Doug Gallatly, Glimcher's Ontario counterpart.

Congregating top athletes at a handful of schools wrecks the competitive balance, Gallatly said. "If that student plays, someone else isn't playing," he said.

The transferring student doesn't necessarily open up a spot at his or her former school, Gallatly said, because some teams fold if they lose so many strong players they are no longer competitive.

Ontario allows students to move freely between grades 9 and 10, if their high school isn't working out for them.

It's almost eight years since Ontario had a court case over its transfer rules, Gallatly said. "The courts have found there is a good and valid reason to have the policy."

It holds up in Alberta, said Glimcher's counterpart John Paton, who said his association denies about eight transfers a year, and believes the rule deters others from trying.

Glimcher, Paton, and Gallatly emphasized school sports are intended to maximize participation.

As in British Columbia, Alberta uses a retired teacher as a compliance officer -- paid by a $30-a-school fee -- to check out every proposed transfer of a student who has previously played varsity sports.

"There will always be families looking for ways to get around the policy," Paton said, conceding, "The vast majority of transfers occur for legitimate reasons."

If a family tries to place a student with a relative living in another school's catchment area, Alberta requires proof of a change in legal guardianship, Paton pointed out.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2013 A5

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