Eligibility rules hard to enforce


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The recent eligibility issue of Potomac track athlete Kharya Brown has raised concerns about dual residency and how to enforce the Virginia High School League rule that applies to transfer students.

The rules say that an entire family must be moved out of the home and the original residence must be sold and abandoned in order for the athlete to become eligible to participate in a sport in the same academic year. But the rule also states, “Residence is defined as the domicile of an individual, meaning that the individual lives in a locality with the intent to make it a fixed and permanent home.”

Bob Brown, Kharya’s father, said he wants to find a more permanent residence for himself and his family. However, he is currently living in the old Stafford County residence while his wife and daughter are living in Dumfries.

Area school principals and Prince William County administrators believe that the vast majority of athletes abide by this rule and that a second residence is rarely used for eligibility purposes in athletics. However, several area coaches see it happen more and more often.

Various area coaches polled believe that many high school athletes that transfer use a dual residency for athletic purposes and that it’s a very difficult problem to stop. Potomac assistant activities director and ex-track and cross country coach Bill Stearns is one such person.

“If you look at all the rules in the VHSL, if you are really determined to do it, I think you can get around it,” Stearns said.

Potomac girls basketball coach Mike Adkins believes the VHSL rules are too ambiguous and that it’s easier to transfer now because of speciality programs.

“We as a school system have made it easier [to transfer] because we have magnet schools,” Adkins said. “For example, you can go to Stonewall for the IB program even if you live in Osbourn Park territory.”

And Stearns said that it’s impractical for schools to enforce these rules 100 percent of the time.

“Everything has a loophole,” Stearns said. “Are you gonna stand at that person’s house and wait everyday to see if they come back and forth every day from school?”

“There are ways to do it legally and there are ways to do it illegally,” Adkins said. “How do you stop that? Is there a way to police that? It’s just one of the things that happens.”

According to VHSL director of compliance Thomas Zimorski, it’s up to the schools to find out about the problem and do something about it.

“We don’t have the resources to investigate every concern,” Zimorski said. “I think the schools do a very good job of policing that. Obviously, there are schools that are being scrutinized by fellow school officials. What we do is report those to that school to make them aware of it … and ask them to look into that.”

Because of the hands-off approach by the VHSL, Zimorski admitted that there are eligibility concerns that sometimes aren’t discovered, possibly due to a family not providing a school with its accurate living situation.

“There probably are areas and there may be situations where they [the athletes] may not be all eligible and you have to understand that,” Zimorski said. “…If they [school administrators] become aware of it, then they act on it.”

In the case of Brown, she was originally ruled ineligible because she had declared her eligibility as a freshman at Gar-Field, a Prince William County stipulation. When the family agreed to transfer Kharya to Potomac, school administrators let the Brown family know that she would be ineligible for the 2002-2003 academic season.

The Browns then pursued the option of entering their daughter into the Cambridge program. However, despite taking classes in the mathematics speciality program during the first semester, Kharya was denied official admission because the paperwork wasn’t filed on time. The family then purchased property in the Potomac school district, which would allow Kharya to participate in track this season.

After she competed in several invitationals this winter, Potomac school administrators ruled her ineligible for the remainder of the track season on Jan. 30, fearing problems with dual residency. However, the next day, Kharya was granted a waiver by Prince William County Superintendent Ed Kelly just hours before a scheduled court appearance. The Browns were seeking a court injunction that would have allowed her to compete this year.

On Feb. 3 at Fork Union Military Academy, Kharya won Cedar Run district titles in the 55 and 300-meter dashes.

Bob Brown said he is doing what is best for his daughter Kharya academically, athletically and socially when he decided to transfer her to Potomac. However, in some cases, dual residency is the outcome of a parent trying to improve their children’s athletic careers without positive dialogue between the parent and the coach.

“I believe with parents, [transferring] is not so much an academic thing as much as it is a personality issue with the coaches,” Adkins said. “[They’ll say], why isn’t my son or daughter not starting? They should be starting.”

“Perception is reality,” added Stearns. “What a parent perceives to be the situation is real to that parent, what the coach perceives is real to that coach, and the kids, the same thing. They all may perceive three different things.”

The case of Johanna Allen provides some insight into the mind of someone who was able to transfer for athletic reasons because of a lack of enforcement of VHSL rules. After running track for Potomac during her freshman year [in 1997], Allen transferred to play soccer for Osbourn Park because the program was better than Potomac’s and she wanted to get a college scholarship. While she was attending OP, she was able to compete for the soccer team because her family promised the county that she would eventually move to the new school district.

Allen didn’t even have to take a certain program or class when she transferred because Prince William County had yet to offer speciality programs specific to its high schools.

“My parents had to say we were planning on moving over to the district at the time and in my parents’ mind, it [going to OP] was for academic reasons but to me, it wasn’t for that reason,” Allen said. “I just had to tell the school board that were moving out there, but we never did. We could just commute every day and we got away with it. It was pretty surprising.”

However, Allen soon began to detest the 30-minute drive to school each day and wanted to go back to Potomac to run for coach Bill Stearns. She missed her friends and she missed being close to the school she grew up near.

“…I was just hung up on the past,” Allen said. “I felt like such an outsider [to Potomac students], even living in the same premises. I learned to appreciate what Potomac had, even though it had a reputation. People said it wasn’t a good school, [that] it was so bad, but I realized it’s what you make of it. I wanted to be there. I thought I’d be a better person at Potomac. I wasn’t happy at OP, I felt like I didn’t belong.”

Ironically, Potomac initially did not make her eligible to compete because they felt she was transferring back for athletic purposes. She was finally made eligible after the cross country season and was allowed to participate in the indoor track season. As a senior, Allen was state runner-up in the 3,200-meter run and is currently running track for East Carolina University.

Allen said some athletes were bitter that she was allowed to come back, but said she was not the exception to the norm.

“Not all the kids thought it was fair, but it happens all the time,” Allen said. “I was just one of the few people that transferred twice in a row.”

However, Kelly said situations like Kharya Brown’s is not a common thing and agreed with Zimorski that the schools do a good job of policing themselves.

“Most of kids stay within the attended zone [they’re supposed to],” Kelly said. “You don’t even find one a year.”

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