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Battle lines have been drawn

Some local schools are going to extreme measures to make sure SCV athletes stay here

Posted: August 8, 2009 8:07 p.m.
Updated: August 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
In early 2008, the Foothill League football coaches took a stand.

The local public schools began to shed private schools from their schedule.

It was a message that they would no longer tolerate private schools taking kids from the Santa Clarita Valley or other areas not close to their schools.

Many coaches in the Santa Clarita Valley feel that private schools recruit.

The truth is, they can recruit. But that’s for academic purposes.

When star athletes leave the area to attend a private school, it makes many people wonder — how academic is that recruitment?

“No school, private, public or charter can recruit for athletic purposes,” said Thom Simmons, director of communications for the CIF-Southern Section. “Private schools have to recruit students. It’s how they do it (that’s the question). At times, it becomes a fine line, but they do a good job of checking with the (CIF-SS) office.”

In early 2008, a group of Castaic-area youth football players attended a meeting at Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills.

That meeting sparked anger from at least two local high school football coaches.

In February of 2008, Saugus High head football coach Jason Bornn said: “From every source, I’ve heard (Alemany principal) Frank (Ferry) and/or people representing themselves or an interested party are actively recruiting kids to go to Alemany. What’s illegal is you’re targeting kids who are athletes.”

Canyon head football coach Chris Varner said of the meeting: “They talked about scholarships, the school, but it was only football players. It wasn’t like it was open to concert violinists.”

Alemany athletic director Randy Thompson said Friday there was a meeting that lasted about 45 minutes.

Private schools, he said, cannot offer scholarships, though they can offer financial aid.

The purpose of the meeting was to give the kids and parents a tour of the campus and answer any questions they may have had about the school.

Thompson said there were questions about the football program.

“Before (the meeting) ever happened, we contacted the CIF to let them know there was a group who wanted to come to Alemany,” Thompson said. “I went to that meeting, our outreach commissioner was at that meeting. We did everything by the book. We talked to (CIF-SS assistant commissioner) Rob Wigod and (CIF-SS commissioner on athletics) Jim Staunton. Everything that happened, they were fine with.”

Thompson said what people don’t understand is schools like Alemany need to recruit students in order to stay financially stable.

The recent success of the school’s football program has garnered positive as well as negative attention to the school. Negative in terms of people seeing the success and raising questions of recruiting.

Thompson said it’s not just the private schools that are being accused of recruiting.

There have been whispers about the successful public schools of the San Fernando Valley. Coaches also point their fingers at schools in Orange County. A frequent target is the successful Mater Dei High School of Santa Ana, though that is also a private school.

Local coaches are keeping more of a watchful eye on kids in the Santa Clarita Valley, though.

Saugus High football created the Saugus Spartans, a youth football program aimed at keeping kids on the path to the school that’s in their boundary.

The Spartans are part of the Santa Clarita Youth Sports Association. Kids within the Saugus High and parts of Valencia High boundaries are eligible to play on the Spartans. Residents in the Golden Valley and Canyon High boundaries are eligible for another team in the SCYSA — the Santa Clarita Grizzlies. There is also the Santa Clarita Wildcats for residents in the West Ranch High boundary.

“You’ve got to fight fire with fire and do what you need to do within the rules to keep kids in your high school,” Bornn said.
Bornn acknowledged that high school sports have become so competitive that schools are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure success, not only in the present, but the future.

“What it says, honestly, is it’s crazy. It’s nuts. But if you want to be competitive, if you want to put kids in the best position to compete for a Foothill League title, a Northern Division title, there are things you have to do.”

Golden Valley head boys basketball coach Chris Printz said the battle for kids has gotten so competitive that he has to know well in advance which kids are supposed to come to his school.

When asked if he knew who some of the best sixth-grade basketball players in the valley are, he said, “Yeah.”

Some might think that even having that knowledge and being around any kind of youth event is close to recruiting.

But Printz said it’s to prevent others from recruiting.

He said it’s keeping a watchful eye on potential poachers.

“It’s sad but you have to know who’s coming to your program maybe as early as fifth grade,” Printz said.

In the end, it all goes back to success.

The successful programs are the ones who are accused of recruiting.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Hart football was a major target.

The Indians won six CIF titles between 1995 and 2003.

But at the time, there was open enrollment in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Hart head football coach Mike Herrington said the Indians had some transfers over those years — quarterback Matt Moore and lineman Chris Frome to name a few. Both went on to play in college and the NFL.

But many of the “star players,” especially the run of All-CIF quarterbacks from 1985 to 2003, lived in Hart High’s boundary.

The Indians have not recently experienced the same success that they once had in the early part of this decade and the 1990s.

People aren’t accusing Hart football of recruiting anymore.

If they are, Herrington joked: “Over the last three years, if we’ve been recruiting, we’ve done a real terrible job.”

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