Right here, right now, you’re not reading a sports writer. You’re reading a father. A dad. A man with two sons, boys not unlike Ben Leary and Jordan Mount, two local high school athletes with fathers of their own. Both their dads were Indiana All-Stars, 1989 high school heroes Todd Leary of Lawrence North (then Indiana University) and Richie Mount of Lebanon (later Purdue University).
It’s a strange coincidence that two 1989 Indiana All-Star teammates have been told by the Indiana High School Athletic Association in the last week that their kid cannot compete in athletics this school year, but the coincidence isn’t why I’m writing this. I don’t really care who the fathers are.
I care who the kids are.
Because they could have been my kids. Could have been yours.
See, this stuff doesn’t hit home unless it’s hitting home, know what I mean? So let it hit home. Channel, as you digest this story, what I’m channeling as a father of kids trying to navigate their life to the best of their ability.
And barring a case of recruiting, which is and should be illegal, if my kid was an athlete who wanted to transfer for any reason from a public school to a private one — or from a private school to a public one — and someone tried to stop him, well, I’d be measuring my foot against someone’s backside. So this is me measuring my size-10 against the IHSAA, which decided these two kids, Jordan and Ben, can’t play this school year.
For Jordan Mount, it’s over. He’s a senior who was told on Monday, sorry, you cannot play at Traders Point Christian Academy. He’d been at Lebanon, which asked the IHSAA not to release his eligibility to compete at a private school 11 miles away in Whitestown, two classifications smaller and not on Lebanon’s schedule this year.
And the IHSAA did as Lebanon asked because the IHSAA is literally an arm of Indiana high schools and not necessarily of the kids attending those schools. The IHSAA knows who butters its bread.
And it’s not Jordan Mount.
Nor is it Ben Leary, which is why the IHSAA upheld Class 6A football powerhouse Carmel’s request that Leary not be allowed to compete this year as a sophomore for Class A Covenant Christian on Indianapolis’ Far Westside.
Want to get good and outraged? Pay attention. I’m about to make it easy.
A year ago Ben’s older brother, Max, made the exact same transfer — from Carmel to Covenant — and was allowed to compete right away. Max Leary wasn’t a football or basketball player. His best sport was golf. Carmel apparently didn’t care about losing a golfer. Carmel didn’t fight Max Leary’s transfer. (I reached Carmel athletics director Jim Inskeep, who deferred to IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox, whom you’ll hear from in a minute.)
Max’s younger brother, Ben? He plays football and basketball. Had he stayed at Carmel, he was a potential starter on this season’s Class 6A semistate football team. He’s a linebacker. He’s also a promising point guard in basketball. Apparently Carmel doesn’t like losing linebackers and point guards. So Carmel, one year after letting Ben’s older brother make the same move, asked the IHSAA to prevent Ben from playing this year at Covenant Christian.
And the IHSAA? It agreed.
Want to get outraged some more? Pay attention. I’m about to make it easier.
Last week Carmel was showing a potential transfer, a big-time college recruit from a private Indianapolis high school, around its facilities. He’ll be a senior. This kid? Carmel hopes this kid can play right away. Because he’s coming to — not going away from — Carmel.
I don’t want to hurt that kid. I want to help Jordan Mount and Ben Leary, kids who have college dreams but have run smack into the IHSAA’s unrealistic wall.
Now, a few words about the IHSAA — and a few words from the IHSAA. It does good work, and this isn’t an attack on the entire organization. And on this issue, the IHSAA has a side.
Commissioner Bobby Cox noted for me that the IHSAA fields roughly 4,200 transfer requests each year, and that about 85 percent end with the kid being allowed to play immediately. In general, those kids have moved to another district.
That’s about 3,600 kids being told “yes.” That’s an important part of this story. Let it be known that the IHSAA doesn’t say “no” to all kids, or even most of them.
As for the 600 kids who get told “no” each year, Cox told me that roughly 50 of them are precluded from playing for a full year from the moment they enroll at their new school, which is what the IHSAA tried to do last year when Eron Gordon transferred from North Central to Cathedral. Those tend to be the murkiest of transfers, Cox told me, with something that causes the IHSAA to say “no” in its most severe terms.
Of the other 550 or so kids, they are granted what the IHSAA calls “limited eligibility,” which means they can play for their new school’s junior varsity right away but not on varsity until 365 days after their final athletic appearance at their former school. In the case of Ben Leary, that means he can play at Covenant Christian next season.
For Jordan Mount, it’s over. He’s a senior. There is no next year.
Understand, there were no whispers of recruiting here. Neither Lebanon nor Carmel suggested such a thing. So why prevent Jordan from playing right away at Traders Point, and Ben from playing right away at Covenant? Because the IHSAA has a guideline that says kids cannot have immediate eligibility if they transfer for athletic reasons.
“We’re an academic organization first and foremost,” Cox was telling me. “Not subservient to athletics.”
That’s tremendous, in theory. I mean it.
But here in the real world, athletics are no small part of certain kids’ lives. Athletics can get a kid into college, get him a scholarship, get him started on the rest of his life. To ignore that reality, to pretend that basketball isn’t the vehicle that Jordan Mount can use to drive toward the rest of his life, is intellectually dishonest. It’s a lie, in other words. It’s not the real world. And if Jordan were my son, well, my shoe size is 10.
Thing is, the IHSAA has yielded some on the transfer issue — with a seismic shift being considered next.
Sixteen years ago, Cox told me, the IHSAA first allowed schools to recommend that a kid be allowed to play immediately at his new school.
And now the IHSAA is considering giving every freshman a one-time free transfer — play right away at your new school, no questions asked, assuming basic eligibility requirements are met — before his or her sophomore season. The board will consider voting that rule into the books in May.
Why yield such ground to transfers? Simple, Cox told me. Because parents tend to pick the kid’s high school.
“And sometimes,” Cox told me, “parents make a mistake.”
So does the IHSAA, Mr. Cox. Sometimes. And I can think of two such times in the last week.
But here’s the thing about mistakes: They can be fixed.
Final appeals are in January. Fix these mistakes, IHSAA. The victims are Jordan Mount and Ben Leary. Real kids from real homes with real parents and real dreams.