The next step(s) in the JT Gray saga involving the standout running back/defensive back and recruiting allegations made by Coolidge against Hamilton will likely come in August when both schools’ districts submit their findings to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board.
Gray has enrolled at Basha since there’s an AIA rule about kids transferring to a school which hosted an offseason camp (which Hamilton did and which is where this mud-slinging began). If Coolidge has tangible evidence of recruiting by either Hamilton or Basha (e-mails, voice mails, text messages, Gray’s testimony) then the book should be thrown at those schools. If not, and it instead becomes “he-said, he-said,” that’s not enough and Hamilton — which is already unfairly “guilty until proven innocent” in many people’s minds — should be exonerated.
The latter of those two scenarios seems more likely to unfold, and it’s hard for me to believe Huskies coach Steve Belles is out luring kids to Hamilton. Besides the program having approximately 98 percent kids who’ve been there since freshman year, he’s among many who’ve gone public multiple times as being a proponent of a transfer rule.
But, as Kyle Odegard discussed in this space earlier this month, this isn’t simply about one school’s accusation and another’s innocence/guilt; it’s about a school standing up for itself in the hush-hush hogwash of “recruiting” in the Valley.
This kind of scenario is exactly what could have been avoided (or mostly avoided) with a 10- or 25- or 50- or whatever-mile transfer rule was proposed. Instead, it was shot down thanks to a couple myopic and short-sighted members of the Legislative Council.
A transfer rule proposal should return to the forefront ASAP, but until one is (re-)presented, or it’s decided that kids can transfer schools anytime, for any reason, and forever be eligible, we’re left wandering the vast middle ground, which hasn’t worked.
In the case of transfers, that means schools self-policing. Flawed system or not, it should be easy to see why the AIA can’t oversee 272 schools’ worth of kids transferring in and out, or their families' motives.
So it’s up to the schools, but it’s a lot of paperwork and verifying of rules. If a family doesn’t want to be there (even if it’s for purely athletic reasons as the JT Gray appears to be), why would a school want to make them stay? What does our school have to gain by accusing another program of impropriety with a kid who apparently doesn’t want to be here?
Nobody wants to be a rat.
So goes the attitude, and, as long as self-policing is the status quo, so it will likely continue. That’s what makes Coolidge’s case — whether flawed or concrete — interesting, even if it reinforces those outside the Valley and away from this compact collection of large-sized schools have the most motivation because they have the least to lose in its relationships with the “heavy hitters” inside the greatest population density.
Everyone whines about transfers creating a mess and turning high school athletics into a quasi-business — and rightfully so. Everyone also whines and whispers about other schools’ programs or parents being shady. Yet, collectively, schools do nothing about it. At least Coolidge has shown it wants to take the first step.
So either pass a transfer rule or let families and kids go in a free-for-all with no regulation and stop whining. Otherwise we’ll forever sit in this quagmire known as the “middle” with a destination of “nowhere.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.