When freshmen football players pile into the Parkway weight room every August, Parkway coach David Feaster has a few questions in mind.
Did you attend Elm Grove Middle School (Parkway’s feeder school) every day last year? Check.
If a student attended another school, more questions come.
“One kid was a (majority to minority) transfer, so we verified that he really does live in Bossier High’s district and verified the paper work,” Feaster said. “One kid is from Wyoming, and his dad is in the Air Force and was transferred to Barksdale (Air Force Base).
“Two or three moved from somewhere close by, so we checked those out more closely. Who do you live with? Where’s the other parent? Why did you move here? Where do you live and how long have you lived there?”
In those cases, Feaster says he verifies they currently live Parkway’s district, asking questions about their prior residence in hopes of avoiding what he and Parkway will have to explain Wednesday at an eligibility appeal.
A Parkway freshman who played in five varsity games (in mop-up duty), a scrimmage and a jamboree was ruled ineligible by LHSAA interim executive director Jimmy Anderson this past week.
The Panthers will appeal the decision to the LHSAA executive committee Wednesday in Baton Rouge staring at five forfeits and no playoffs if the decision isn’t overturned.
“You make sure that they’ve completely moved out of the other house,” Feaster said. “Do you have a toothbrush or school clothes over there?
“Where do you spend weekends and summers? If there’s still a question, we have a coach follow a kid home … to make sure he’s going home to that address he gave us.”
The player in question passed all of Parkway’s tests.
He attended middle school at Walnut Hill in Caddo Parish, and he and his father lived with his grandparents. The father and son moved in with a then-coworker in Bossier Parish this May when the son decided he wanted to go to Parkway, according to the father.
But when another school requested an investigation into the player’s eligibility status, a potential problem arose because the father owns a home in Caddo Parish that he says he’s renovating and that the family hasn’t lived in for several years.
Feaster said the LHSAA deemed the house unlivable.
But certain aspects violated the “bona fide move” section of the LHSAA handbook. For example, some utilities (water and electricity) are still on, and the father receives some but not all mail at the old address.
The father said those utilities are necessary to continue renovations, and Feaster argues these rules shouldn’t apply in this situation because the old address isn’t a viable residence.
Another portion of the rules state that a family must make a “permanent move” to their new location. The father said he intends for the move to Bossier Parish to be permanent, but not his current living situation with a former coworker. Once he’s renovated and sold the old residence, he’ll have the money to move into a permanent residence.
“We think this is a bona fide move because it’s not only within the spirit of the law but the letter of the law,” Feaster said. “The LHSAA has a principle that says every kid is eligible somewhere, and we don’t think he could be eligible anywhere other than Parkway.”
How do other coaches handle newcomers?
Other coaches follow a similar protocol – identify where a student lives and their family history if they didn’t come from a feeder middle school.
Byrd coach Mike Suggs said freshmen are different than upperclassmen, but if a student moves in from out of parish, that immediately raises a red flag.
“We go through the normal processes of talking to them and asking them questions … but if I have any doubts, I tell them we do an eligibility ruling request (through the LHSAA),” Suggs said. “That way we’ll have it in writing, and if a player is ruled ineligible, then they can go through (a hardship appeal).
“Instead of me trying to figure it out, it’s easier to request a ruling.”
Haynesville coach David Franklin said he requested four LHSAA eligibility rulings this year. Although this year’s number of requests were abnormally high, Franklin said he doesn’t usually deal with many eligibility questions.
“We’re a small school, so we don’t have a lot,” Franklin said. “The first thing we do is check into a player’s background.
“I can see where it’s easy to miss things because you can’t go door-to-door. We had one transfer whose mom was a teacher here, so we get rulings on things like that.”
Feaster said he requested a ruling on another player this year (the LHSAA approved it), and he didn’t allow two others to play this season because of eligibility questions.
Once he verified the player in question lived in Bossier Parish and not at his most recent residence (grandparents’ house), he didn’t think any further action needed to be taken.
Northwood coach Jim Gatlin knows what it’s like to forfeit. He forfeited one game at Parkway because he played a relocated student from Hurricane Katrina that was too old.
“We were told that all kids coming from Katrina situations would be eligible, but we didn’t know this kid’s eligibility had run out,” Gatlin said.
While he sympathizes with teams that lose a playoff opportunity because of forfeits, he’s also thinking about another group of kids as a coach at a non-magnet high school.
“What about the kids in a program that’s losing these types of players?” Gatlin asks. “Both sides get hurt when any players transfer or leave their home district.
“If we were all neighborhood schools and kids played at that school, it would be different. You know neighborhood kids. Do we know for sure the address they gave us is where they are going home to? You can’t follow 90 kids home to find out where they are living … but when a stud comes knocking on your door, you better check him out and call the LHSAA to make sure he’s eligible.”
Calvary coach John Bachman favors families choosing which school their child attends – whether that’s public or private.
“It’s a shame that kids and communities have to suffer because a family made a decision they thought was best for them,” Bachman said. “I don’t care if a kid plays at four different high schools in four years.
“I believe in parental choice. In Florida, a family can do that if they wanted. We need to get away from pointing fingers.”