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A hand in the cookie jar

n It’s one of the major issues in high school sports — do programs recruit?

Posted: August 7, 2009 10:05 p.m.
Updated: August 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

It is one of the biggest complaints lodged by angry parents and coaches in the Santa Clarita Valley, yet very few, if anybody, are willing to talk about it on record or provide evidence on the subject.

Yet the complaints persist and the anonymous accusations fly that there is open recruiting in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Not just by teams within the valley, but programs cherry-picking from the Santa Clarita Valley.

What has drawn the most ire recently is the private school vs. public school battle for players.

Private schools, like public schools, are not allowed by CIF-Southern Section rules to recruit a child to a school for athletic purposes.

Yet in nearly every sport, especially with successful teams, there are accusations.

Valencia High head softball coach Donna Lee has her critics. She has never been confronted about the subject but she acknowledges that people have accused her program of recruiting.

Recently, an e-mail came into The Signal from someone who lodged 17 different complaints about Valencia High softball, one of the most successful sports programs of any kind in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Complaints No. 16 was: “Why is it that Valencia allows their parents to try and RECRUIT the best incoming freshman in the SCV (no matter where they live) to their program.”

Lee said she can only laugh when she hears the accusations.

“I don’t have enough time in my schedule to go out and recruit,” she said.

Because Valencia softball, a two-time CIF-Southern Section and 2007 national champion, has had so much success, players are drawn to the program..

We confirmed a Canyon player recently transferred to Valencia.

That player is allowed to play on the Valencia varsity team in 2010 because rule No. 207 in the CIF-SS Blue Book states a student can maintain varsity eligibility if they transfer before the first day of their third consecutive semester (typically the first semester of the sophomore year) at a school.

Also, the William S. Hart Union High School District signs off on all transfers, and according to administration at the district, a child cannot transfer for athletic reasons.

People have used that transfer as an opportunity to take aim at Greg Lee, Donna’s husband.

Greg Lee is the diversity coordinator and athletics administrator for the Hart District.

Interdistrict transfers go through Greg Lee and Richard Freifeld, Hart District director of student services.

Greg Lee acknowledged that there are people who complain about his position with the district, but he’ll keep doing his job regardless.

Valencia High athletic director Brian Stiman has always stood by Lee and said there is no reason to investigate.

Lee argued that when the Valencia softball program was building up to the point to where it is now, nobody was complaining.

It is nothing new that the great teams in the Santa Clarita Valley have been accused, informally, of recruiting.

People complained about the great Hart football teams of the 1990s and early 2000s, the great Canyon football teams of the mid-2000s and the great Hart girls basketball teams of this decade.

People accused Canyon High in 2006 of grabbing Bakersfield-area football star Kenny Shanahan.

Hart girls basketball stars Ashlee Trebilcock and Taylor Lilley were looked at with suspicion earlier this decade.

Trebilcock’s mother looked into her daughter playing at Valencia High prior to deciding on Hart, said Valencia High girls basketball head coach Jerry Mike.

Lilley played at Saugus High as a freshman before transferring to Hart.

Yet in all three cases, no team or player was found to have violated any CIF-SS rules.

Canyon High boys basketball coach Chad Phillips saw the writing on the wall very early for one of his players.

At times during last season, he’d openly worry that highly-touted freshman Brandon Perry would transfer after the season.

He was right.

Perry recently transferred to basketball-powerhouse Taft High in Woodland Hills.

The Santa Clarita Valley is not a boys basketball hotbed, despite it boasting the highly competitive Foothill League.

There have only been two Santa Clarita Valley prep players in the last two decades to receive an NCAA Division I scholarships – Hart’s Ali Peek in 1992 and Canyon’s Cody Anderson in 2008.

Phillips said he was not himself during the 2008-09 season and found himself catering to Perry more to convince him, without saying, to stick around Canyon.

Perry didn’t.

“I knew it would happen,” Phillips said of a transfer. “You can’t fault the kid for wanting exposure.”

People have said Perry was lured to Taft.

Phillips said it wasn’t the coaching staff there that did the luring.

“I don’t ever think it’s on the sidelines,” Phillips said.

Sometimes it’s the lure of a school’s success and other times it’s people around the program, such as parents that do the luring.
Chris Printz, the head boys basketball coach and co-athletic director at Golden Valley High, said he has had a premier player who was approached by a “friend of a program” to come to their school.

Printz puts some of the blame on the club basketball system.

Kids play together on club squads but are spread across different high schools.

Printz said there are club coaches who in essence are doing recruiting for a high school program by trying to convince kids on these travel teams to play together on high school teams.

“It’s a battle that us coaches stop fighting because I can’t win,” Printz said.

Thom Simmons, the director of communications for the CIF-Southern Section, said the organization receives complaints about recruiting, but many of those are anonymous complaints.

He said the CIF-SS investigates maybe one per school year because most complaints don’t have much evidence or validity behind them.

“Anonymous calls, anonymous letters, we don’t follow up on those,” Simmons said. “We’re happy to investigate if we have to, but there’s no one willing to stand up and put their name to a (complaint).”

There are 571 member schools in the CIF-Southern Section and 16 staffers at the CIF-SS office.

Simmons said therefore it’s important for schools to police themselves.

Stiman said he has not had to investigate a possible recruiting violation by any of his coaches — ever.

Stiman said the administration at Valencia High pays close attention to sports, so it would be very difficult for a coach to break such a rule without getting caught.

Stiman is another person who believes that recruiting is being done, but it’s not being done by coaches.

“You know who recruits? The parents recruit,” Stiman said. “They’re always trying to find something better. They all want to go where best program is. When programs are good, kids flock to them.”

After the 2006 football season, rumors flew that Moorpark High junior running back Darrell Scott, the state’s top player at his position, was looking to transfer to a new school.

He did, in fact, leave Moorpark.  

Before choosing St. Bonaventure of Ventura, Scott’s family contacted Hart High.

“I told his mom or future step dad, you have to come here and talk to the administration,” said Hart High head coach Mike Herrington.

Scott ended up transferring to private school St. Bonaventure, where he would lead the school to a state championship.

In their wake, St. Bonaventure defeated Hart 42-28 in the CIF-SS Northern Division championship game.

That was the game that opened up what may be the biggest debate in high school sports in the latter part of this decade – do private schools have an unfair advantage and do they get away with recruiting?


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