Since coming to Tooele about three and a half months ago, I’ve heard all sorts of stories about how the shiny new Stansbury High School had all the best sports teams because it recruited all the best athletes from the Tooele County junior high schools, recruited the best coaches to teach in Stansbury Park, have all the nicest facilities, and negotiated a deal with aliens and witchdoctors to ensure dominance over its two neighboring highs schools.
I don’t know which specific cases have truth to them and which are exaggerated hearsay, but I think a broader conversation about the topic is worth mulling over.
I’m a supporter of the “Play where you live” school of thought. I think it’s the most fair policy for high school athletics and still takes academic transfers into account for kids who are seeking the best education in high school — though I suspect most athletic transfers are not. You have to go home eventually, why not make it before practice instead of after?
But the topic isn’t really a new one in the state.
Let me give you a little background: I graduated from Hillcrest in 2007 and heard stories all the time about kids in my teammates’ neighborhoods playing baseball for Brighton, football for Cottonwood, soccer for Skyline, or basketball for Jordan. There were rumors of big, low-income kids getting a “scholarship” to play for a nearby rival, where some affluent boosters would buy things like cleats and equipment, or pay apartment rental checks to get around transfer rules.
It was pretty frustrating, especially since Hillcrest football had a grand total of seven wins during the three years I attended. Baseball was similar — we won three games against Utah teams. Basketball was about the only reason we had to cheer, with a 19-game winning streak my junior year that led to a heart-wrenching loss to a Morgan Grimm-led Riverton team in the semifinal and a 17-5 season my senior year.
I personally heard some varsity athletes wonder during English class how good we might have been had we had those supposedly recruited athletes back from Cottonwood, which had three total losses in football from 2007-08 and a state-championship baseball team my senior year, or any of the other schools nearby.
I really have no idea how many Hillcrest-boundary athletes played sports at other schools, or if there is really any truth at all to those accusations.
I do know, however, that one starter on our football and basketball teams lived in a neighborhood very close — if not well within — Brighton boundaries. Our cross-country team actually improved drastically the year after I graduated because of kids who actually did transfer for academic reasons: Hillcrest was the only school in the district that offered International Baccalaureate classes — think one grueling step above Advanced Placement courses.
I personally was a transplant athlete. I played for a Hillcrest automotive baseball team in middle school before my family moved from West Jordan a year or two later, and I was forced to sit out every time we faced the team I technically should have been playing for. I’d make the same choice again because I went to school in Midvale for the magnet gifted program and I was already friends with the kids who became my teammates. It was the same in basketball, though I didn’t have to sit out because that particular league didn’t have enforcement rules about the issue.
I’ve been on both sides of the boundary line and I still think “play where you live” is the most fair policy. As I said above: You have to go home eventually, why not make it before practice instead of after?
Tavin Stucki is a journalism graduate of Utah State University who hasn’t found a sport he doesn’t like. To talk Aggie football or for tips on his next outdoor adventure in Tooele County, hit him up on Twitter: @TooeleTAVscript.