Oakland, CA

Why do athletes have to wait to play?

Clay Kallam

Transfer to a new high school as a sophomore and join the band. If you’re the best drummer, you get the gig – and when the band sells tickets for the concert, people will be impressed with your paradiddle.

Transfer to a new high school as a junior and try out for the school play. If you’re the best Maria around, you’ll be singing “I Feel Pretty” to a paying audience.

Transfer to a new high school as a senior and try out for the basketball team. If you shoot like Steph Curry, you can … well, actually you can’t. In California and across the country, transferring for what old people sitting behind desks decide are “athletic reasons” makes you ineligible. Sometimes it’s 30 days, and sometimes it’s a full year.

So what exactly is the difference between the band (which might compete against other bands in interschool competitions) and drama and athletics? Why is one extracurricular activity supervised by some anonymous organization that denies young people the opportunity to participate and not the others?

Of course, there is no good reason. Oh, some will say it’s about “competitive equity,” meaning that all the good players might transfer into one school and dominate on the field. But if there are rules against transferring, the very shaky logic goes, young people will meekly stay at their local school and play for whatever coach happens to be running things.

Have you ever heard of De La Salle? Last time I looked, De La Salle hadn’t lost to one of the schools in its section for 30+ years, more than 270 games. That’s with rules designed to foster competitive equity. Of course, most schools don’t have that long a run, but as anyone who’s been around high school sports for any length of time knows, there are always schools that are really good at a particular sport for five or ten years at a time.

Campolindo, for example, has been a football power since Kevin Macy has been the coach. Neighboring Miramonte, which draws from an essentially similar talent pool, has not. Oakland Tech’s girls’ basketball team is a powerhouse. Fremont is not.

In short, competitive equity is a myth, plain and simple. Just as in sports at every level, there are dominant programs and also-rans, and trying to legislate balance is a fool’s errand. And again, there’s no attempt to legislate balance in band, or drama, or choir, or debate. And what precisely is the difference that makes athletics subject to transfer rules, and these other extracurricular activities free of them? Charging admission? No. Interscholastic competition? No. The intrinsic value of the activities themselves? Please.

On top of that, it now costs about a quarter of a million dollars to send a child to college. Elite athletes, for whatever reason, can get that $250,000 paid for, and even collect more if they’re good enough. So doesn’t it make sense for a family to be able to maximize their child’s chances of getting a scholarship? And wouldn’t it then make sense to send their young athlete to a school that does really well in the child’s sport?

But no. A poor family from Oakland, say, with a daughter talented in basketball, can’t transfer to Oakland Tech so she can give herself the best shot at her only way to afford college. If she were a great pianist and Oakland Tech had a great piano teacher, she could – and maybe earn a scholarship. Or if she were a brilliant dancer, or debater, or math student. But no, not if she’s an athlete.


I’ll wait.

Shouldn’t education be about the students, about the children? Shouldn’t families have the opportunity to make decisions about what school is best for their child? Of course they can if their son is a superb singer, or talented artist. But they can’t if he’s a great baseball player.

The fundamental injustice of this restraint on families’ abilities to make their own decisions about what’s best for their child has been going on for generations – though the wealthy who can hire lawyers always seem to get their way – but there’s no reason for it to continue.

Pro sports has free agency. Colleges have NIL. Drama students can go to high school wherever they can get in.

Athletes should have the same rights. Let them play.

Photo by(Leah Hetteberg/Unsplash)

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA

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