Independence’s Vic Wharton, Centennial’s Deon Sanders and Blackman’s Matt Williams are playing high school football this fall after transferring from private to public schools and becoming immediately eligible.
Meanwhile, major college prospect Rashaan Gaulden is sitting out the season after transferring from Brentwood Academy to Independence.
What’s the difference among the four juniors?
Transfers generally are ineligible for varsity competition at their new school for 12 months after their last athletic competition at their old school unless there is a “bona fide change of residence” from one school zone to another.
For transfers involving private schools, which have no zones, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s transfer rules cover a variety of situations.
“They’ve really got specific guidelines to follow,” said Richard Williams, Matt’s father. “We called the TSSAA at least three times.”
In private-to-public transfers that involve a residence change, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said these standards must be meet for immediate eligibility:
* The previous residence must be outside the new school’s zone.
* The new residence must be inside the zone of the new school and outside the zone of the public school the player was previously zoned to attend.
* The athlete must live more than 20 miles from the private school he attended.
“We have a computer program set up, and when parents or athletic directors call, we’ll have them give us the address they’re moving from and the address they’re moving to,” Childress said.
Matt Williams played at Father Ryan in Nashville last season while living in Siegel’s zone in Murfreesboro. He transferred over the Christmas break to Blackman after his family moved out of the Siegel zone.
“He would not have been (immediately) eligible at Siegel,” Richard Williams said. “We thought about staying there and letting him sit out the year, but looking at our family situation, Blackman was the best place for him.”
Matt Williams won the starting nod at quarterback for the Blaze during the preseason and started the first three games before he was replaced by Chase Smotherman. He threw for 154 yards in the opener against Independence and 88 in Blackman’s next two games.
Sanders has become one of Centennial’s defensive leaders, logging 15 tackles. He transferred from BGA and did not move. BGA and Centennial are less than four miles apart.
Centennial principal Frank Brown would not comment on the process that allowed Sanders’ immediate eligibility.
One other option for athletes is to appeal to the TSSAA Board of Control for eligibility on a hardship basis. In a private-to-public transfer, the appeal usually is based on an economic issue.
“When we look at financial hardships, we don’t just take their word for it,” Childress said. “If we get something (from a family) saying they can no longer afford to pay tuition because of a loss of a job, a reduction of pay, we have to get documentation from the employer. We make them verify it.
“We also get a letter from the administration at the private school that they were aware of the parents’ inability to pay and they were unable to provide any further need-based assistance in order for them to be able to stay.”
Gaulden is a safety who has offers from Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Nebraska and Duke.
His family’s move from Antioch to Spring Hill still left their home within 20 miles of Brentwood Academy, and the appeal process has been unsuccessful.
“These guys we’ve played against are having opportunities to play,” said Reynold Gaulden, who is Rashaan’s father and has watched Independence play Blackman and Centennial this season.
“We were trying to do it the right way. We proved to them there was a change in our finances. It ended up being that the only way we were going to be able to be eligible was for BA to write a letter saying the only reason we left was for finances, and I don’t think they’re legally bound to say that.”
Gaulden is eligible to play in junior-varsity contests this season.
“I really believe in the process the TSSAA goes through,” Independence principal Todd Campbell said. “They listen to you. I’m confident they listen. …
“I think everybody wants to get kids eligible. I think you have to do it the right way.”
Wharton is eligible this season for another reason after playing last season at Christ Presbyterian Academy. His father was hired as a full-time educator and track coach at Independence over the summer after serving in the same role at CPA.
Wharton is a multiposition player with offers from Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Cincinnati.