Stephon McGinnis transferred this week from Ambridge to Aliquippa. If the WPIAL or PIAA makes him eligible for football, it might be a decision that opens a big can of worms. More like a truckload.
McGinnis enrolled at Aliquippa Monday. Mike Zmijanac, Aliquippa athletic director and football coach, said McGinnis' mother recently re-married, moved into the Aliquippa district and wanted her son to live with her. Zmijanac said Stephon McGinnis lived with someone else in the Ambridge district, but that his mother used to live in Aliquippa.
McGinnis, a senior, is Ambridge's leading receiver and he also averaged 20 points per game in basketball. Whatever the reason he says he has transferred, the fact that Ambridge is 1-4 could have nothing to do with it, right? Merely just a coincidence, I'm sure.
McGinnis is already practicing with undefeated Aliquippa's football team, which is permitted. The WPIAL will likely have a hearing with him in a few weeks. One of the keys to his eligibility ruling could be whether he gets a principal-to-principal "signoff." Ambridge apparently has not yet decided whether to sign off. Sources have told me that Ambridge would like to talk with McGinnis and his mother.
Even if McGinnis gets a principal-to-principal signoff, the WPIAL will likely still have a hearing. If McGinnis is made eligible for football at some point, you can bet Aliquippa opponents will be fuming and it would also set a precedent. And please, don't hand me the malarkey that a kid has a right to live anywhere, go to school anywhere and play sports if he wants. Baloney. You certainly do have a right to live anywhere and go to school anywhere you want. But you do not have a right to play sports. That is a privilege. You may argue that a kid should be able to transfer, even if athletic intent is involved. But now you are arguing the rule. That is a whole other story. The rule is still there, and needs to be enforced.
Think of it. If McGinnis is eligible to play football at Aliquippa, what is to ever stop anyone else from starting the season with one team, and when that team is out of playoff contention, move with a parent to another district, get an apartment in that district and then play? Here is a simple scenario to get it done. This is purely hypotethical, let's say a kid plays for Greensburg Salem and is a pretty good player. After a 1-4 start, it looks like Greensburg Salem isn't going to make the playoffs. Dad all of a sudden gets an apartment in nearby Franklin Regional and takes the son with him. Franklin Regional, coincidentally, is 4-1.
Would that be athletic intent? No way. Dad says he and mom are having marital problems and decided to separate. Greensburg Salem's 1-4 start has nothing to do with this. It's merely a coincidence. If McGinnis is made eligible, how can the WPIAL or PIAA stop the above example?
As for the marital problems thing? Believe me, people have used that before.
And heck, in the example above. Let's say the student leaves Greensburg Salem and goes to Franklin Regional's district with his dad. Maybe after football season, go back to Greensburg Salem for basketball or baseball. Hey, the father and mother worked things out and got back together. Just a coincidence.
But on the other hand, there is a precedent that would seem to favor McGinnis. Twelve years ago, talented player Steffan Brinson moved with his mother from Ambridge to Woodland Hills in the middle of the football season. The WPIAL ruled him eligible and Brinson played for Woodland Hills.
But that same 2002 season, Central Catholic pulled itself out of the WPIAL playoffs because of an alleged sexual abuse case involving players in the preseason. One week later, Central star running back Andrew Johnson enrolled at North Hills. He already lived in the North Hills district. But the WPIAL was able to put off a hearing with Johnson until after North Hills' season ended. The WPIAL eventually ruled Johnson ineligible for the next season, but the PIAA overturned the ruling and Johnson played.
Let's face it. Many transfers of student-athletes are for athletic reasons. It can be hard to prove, though. In fact, no matter how the McGinnis case looks, he is indeed moving in with his mother. But should an athlete be allowed to play at another school halfway through a season? If the move is really not for athletic intent, then not playing the rest of the season should be no big deal, right?
In McGinnis' case, he could still attend school at Ambridge if he wanted. Ambridge, and many other schools, have a rule that if a student's family moves out of the district and a student is a senior, the student is permitted to finish his senior year and still play athletics at the original school. That is allowed by the WPIAL also.
But here is a novel idea that would make a school look so good: Have a school stand up and say we are not making this kid eligible because we know athletic intent was involved. But that has about as much a chance of happening as me bench-pressing 300 pounds. Again, a kid has a right to go to a school, but he doesn't have a right to play sports. For example, if a kid transfers from school A to school B and it is obvious athletic intent is involved, no matter the claims, school B steps up and won't sign the principal-to-principal signoff, saying the kid is ineligible for a year because he transferred for athletic intent. Wouldn't that be something.
It did happen once before and then Greensburg Central Catholic principal Denise Myers was praised by the WPIAL and many others for her decision. Marcus Malara transferred from Mount Pleasant to Greensburg Central Catholic in 2011, but Myers wouldn't sign off on the transfer and recommended to the WPIAL that he be ruled ineligible for a year because he transferred for athletic intent. Myers was a new principal at the time. She is no longer the principal at GCC.
I go back and forth on whether McGinnis should be made eligible for basketball at Aliquippa. But for football, no way.