Sending the Right Message

Last month, the Fulton County School System reported former Milton High School’s head boys basketball coach, David Boyd, to the state sports association for “undue influence” in persuading star athletes to transfer to the school, questionable behavior many see as unfairly helping the team advance to state championship titles.

Although Milton has always maintained a reputation as a major high school sports powerhouse, netting 15 of the Georgia High School Association’s most competitive state championships and an additional 10 individual state champions over the past five years, the school was not widely considered a major threat for the state basketball title until very recently.

However, since the school began participating in the high-profile transfers of star athletes under the guidance of Coach Boyd, Milton’s basketball team has, not coincidentally, won the state basketball championship two out of the past three years, following a disturbing trend of large public high schools participating in the behavior.

In fact, over the past decade, no boys basketball team competing in Georgia’s highest classification, 5-A, has taken home the state title without engaging in a high-profile transfer of players between schools.

Therefore, as the state’s reigning boys basketball champion, Milton makes for the most logical choice by the association to target for sanctions, which will hopefully send the message to other schools that such unsporting behavior should not be tolerated in high school sports.

After all, as Milton’s success shows, it’s not like these transfers are made lightly and, in some cases, they can literally be the difference between winning and losing.

Before Boyd helped recruit these athletes, the school had never won a state basketball title in its otherwise storied 91-year-old history. With that sort of record, it’s easy to understand the temptation and pressure that would drive such decision-making.

But this success was not fair – not for the other schools and not for the students themselves.

After all, following Fulton County’s investigation, Boyd seemed to acknowledge this by resigning as head coach — but not before it came out that he helped find rental properties for the families of students currently enrolled in other state high schools and invited multiple competing players to practice with the team during the offseason.

In such a situation, these other schools are deprived of their best athletes, leaving them with a lack of leadership and talent capable of competing on the same level as their opponents, especially in rural areas where schools may already suffer from limited player availability.

Imagine if every school participated in this sort of behavior, aggressively pursing players from across the state, all the while promising visions of state championships and national acclaim to an untold number of high school aged students.

That’s precisely why we have such protections against such unsportsmanlike behavior. After all, these are kids that we’re talking about.

Even if the varsity level players may be 18 or 19 years old, veritable adults in their own right, much younger players often look up to the varsity players for leadership and guidance.

Furthermore, moving schools or homes cannot be easy for these young athletes that already have to worry about balancing the demands of work and play with their academics.

Sure, top universities already target top players, starting as young as these athletes’ sophomore year in high school to begin recruitment efforts. But these communications are heavily regulated by the NCAA and limited in number in the interests of keeping the game fair – something parents and community members would do well to keep in mind.

Of course, there will always be some, particularly in the Milton community, that claim the GHSA went to far with its verdict, unfairly punishing students that had nothing to do with the decisions made by the coaching staff.

This is undoubtedly a valid criticism worth consideration but ultimately one that is overridden by the need of the GHSA to send a strong message with its verdict.

So don’t blame the GHSA— blame the coach that got them into this mess.

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This is the personal page of Chris Shattuck -- an Atlanta-based media professional with a background in business reporting, nonprofits and agency PR.

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