School choice within the public system is supposed to give students and parents educational options. If their neighborhood school doesn't meet the needs of their child, school choice enables parents to send their child to another school where they might fare better, supposing space is available and the parents can arrange transportation.
Parents exercise choice for any number of reasons. They may want their children in a stronger academic program. They may want their child in a more diverse school setting. They might want their child to attend the same high school they did.
Now some Utah parents are exercising school choice so their son or daughter can play on a more competitive high school athletic team, according to a recent series of reports by the Deseret News and KSL-TV.
Some parents have gone so far as to purchase condominiums or rent apartments in the preferred school's boundaries to legitimize the school (and team) transfers for their child. While every parent should be his or her child's strongest advocate, such extreme measures suggest a lack of perspective about high school athletics and possibly their own child's talent.
At the very least, these choices represent a perversion of the school-choice law, which was supposed to maximize academic opportunities and encourage competition among public schools, not enable student athletes to shop for the strongest athletic programs.
Some parents rationalize their actions by saying their children's prospects for athletic scholarships may be improved if they can play on a competitive, successful and, therefore, high-profile program. If they play in the state tournament, chances are they'll be noticed by college scouts and get a scholarship.
Do the math. There are 118 high schools in Utah. You can count the number of Utah high school boys who have received basketball scholarships from NCAA Division I schools in recent years on one hand.
Some college coaches say it doesn't matter where a truly gifted athlete plays. College recruiters will find them wherever they are. Many people couldn't find Fargo, N.D., on a map. It's where University of Utah basketball standout Nick Jacobson comes from. Coach Rick Majerus once went to Finland to recruit a player.
Relatively few high school athletes have the talent, physical attributes and work ethic to play college sports. Athletic scholarships aren't doled out willy-nilly.
So we must question the wisdom of uprooting students from their neighborhood schools, taking them from friends they have known their entire school careers, to transfer to a place where their prospects of being noticed by a college recruiter aren't exponentially better and their chances of receiving a scholarship remain mighty slim.
The Utah High School Activities Association is concerned about school transfers for the sake of athletes. It is considering proposals to better scrutinize such school transfers and to relieve school principals of the responsibility of making the decisions. The proposals, which will be considered for final approval in May, would go into effect in the 2003-04 school year.
It is unfortunate that the UHSAA has been forced into this position by parents who are seemingly more concerned with their children's athletic prospects than their academics or their social well-being.
High school shouldn't be treated as the end-all in a teenager's life. They'll have their whole lives to compete in the dog-eat-dog world. Why heap on all that pressure when the prospects of damaging a child's self-esteem are a more likely outcome than snagging an athletic scholarship?