Double-duty option proposed in West Virginia allowing concurrent HS, travel participation ill-advised | Opinion

Apr. 16—The dynamic between high school sports and club and travel entities has its vehemence as far as disagreement on how athletes should proceed.

But perhaps this much is true: As much as those entities engage in a tug of war over athletes, in their heart of hearts they can agree on one thing: Expecting an athlete to consider balancing both concurrently is a terrible idea.

Much as they don't see the negatives within one another, they do at minimum tend to respect staying in their lane.

That is, unless apparently you're in West Virginia.

In recent months, legislators have been enacting and proposing reform to high school sports in the state.

A controversial transfer bill, which last year was enacted and allows all high school athletes a one-time move and immediate right to participate, will continue after an effort to reverse it withered in committee.

Now, that governance includes a proposal called SB813. If enacted, West Virginia athletes would — should they elect to do so — be able to participate on high school and travel teams. Part of the text of the bill states, "A county board of education and the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission may not restrict nor prohibit a student from competing in nonschool-sponsored events or participating on nonschool-sponsored competitive teams as a condition of playing for a school-sponsored extracurricular activity or sport."

Understandably, high school sports powers-that-be in the state have a strong opinion.

The West Virginia Schools Athletic Coaches Association crafted an open response to SB813, lamenting the effect it could have on high school sports within its borders.

While it's important in this space to not copy and paste the entire letter verbatim, it is also important to frame their argument properly by citing key portions of it.

"The members of the WVSACA urge you to seek more information from medical professionals about athlete overusage before you run SB813," the letter, signed by WVSACA executive director Wesley Eddy, begins. "To expand on the term 'overusage', the game totals for each WVSSAC sponsored activity has been set to protect the athlete. For example, we do not need to add more innings to a baseball pitcher's arm, we do not need more weigh-ins during a wrestling season, and we do not need more soccer matches. There must be time for the athletes to rest, have family/social time, and have time to focus on their academics.

"The West Virginia Schools Coaches Association is deeply concerned about how this bill will affect team chemistry and the hardships placed on coaching staffs. We can't have players picking and choosing when they show up for practices and/or games. This is not a virtue that we should be teaching our athletes."

In a neighboring state in Ohio, we can already see trouble on the horizon with fall sports, including football, further infiltrating the spring and the likely unintended but inevitable effect that will have on spring sports.

In short, student-athletes and their families will have impossible choices to make.

This West Virginia proposal is the epitome of that.

Imagine if such a bill becomes law, and the stalemate between high school and — using it as an umbrella term — travel entities intensifies to the point where pressure is placed on families to pursue both.

Say, for example, the best girls basketball student-athlete in West Virginia has travel commitments outside of high school season. Those travel commitments afford her and her family increased exposure and networking with college programs that will aid her decision on where to continue plying her trade after she graduates from high school.

Now, thanks to this law, she has the option to play for her high school AND for her travel team in the winter. Where is the line drawn? What comes first?

Does she have to practice for her high school as well as for her travel team? Will she be expected to compete in games for both?

And what if the pressure and workload involved lead, as the WVSACA indicates, toward overuse?

What if it leads to her falling out of love with the sport because too many entities expect too much of her?

There will be those who will shout from the proverbial rooftops about freedom and choice, and there is validity to that.

If a student-athlete wants to represent their high school, they shouldn't be frowned upon for that.

If a student-athlete chooses to forgo high school for specialization and traveling entity, that's their and their family's choice to make.

But deep down, much as each may stew about it, high schools and travel entities also understand there is a mutual benefit to both.

High school season breaks up monotony. It affords student-athletes the opportunity to compete with their friends and represent their community. Even getting into other sports, the positives there are well-documented and drive student-athletes away from specialization and primary sport fatigue.

Heading out of high school into travel affords student-athletes refinement that will benefit their schools when they return to that fold.

If student-athletes and families are forced, regardless of what "pressure" looks like, to balance high school and travel concurrently, that puts them in an unfair position and doesn't do much but place undue stress on people who shouldn't have to face it.

Without diving head-first into legislative process, here's to hoping we don't hear much of SB813 moving forward. This is one of those times during which we don't need to hear the counterpoint.

Because the negatives far outweigh the positives.

If all principles involved truly have a student-athlete's best interests in mind, you know what they would do? They would let them make whatever choices fit them and their families best.

But amid that process, they would also let these young people have control over the most memorable years of their lives.

They would let them live.

They wouldn't begrudge them nights out with friends, school dances or weekend family trips every once in a while instead of sports.

Of course impressionable athletes need to be pushed to get better.

But we have to be cognizant of the fact, in order to foster the best version of sports and the people participating in them, the stalemate needs to subside every so often.