Athletes targeted by harsh transfer policy

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John Supan

Michigan High School Athletic Association headquarters in East Lansing

Senior year, for many high school students, is the last time for a number of things: last dance, last class and last time in a high school athletic uniform. For some, that last chance is cut short.

Thomas Kithier is a senior at Clarkston High School, a school he attends through Michigan’s schools of choice program.. Prior to attending Clarkston, Kithier was enrolled at Macomb Dakota High School where he established himself as one of the state’s best power forwards in basketball, averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds his junior year. This year, Kithier has not played a single minute in a blue and gold Clarkston uniform and will not for the remainder of the season. Kithier, family and friends have shown disapproval of the way his situation is being handled. Kithier’s family filed a lawsuit against the Michigan High School Athletic Association in December. The suit challenged the assumption that Kithier transferred to Clarkston to play basketball instead of for academic reasons. The family has recently dropped the case hoping to give Kithier space before his first season at Michigan State University.

Kithier is enrolled at Michigan State University for the 2018-2019 school year and is one of the top recruits for the Spartan’s basketball program. Coach Tom Izzo has expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation. Both Izzo and Kithier have realized that the future is more important than the issues Kithier is facing this season. Kithier continues to develop skills that will prepare him for the big stage come next year, but that just isn’t happening — on a high school court that is. Kithier has been practicing with the Clarkston team all season, but come game time, Kithier has never checked into a single game. In the meantime, Kithier has been staying in shape and practicing in recreational men’s leagues.

This has been an issue for the Michigan High School Athletic Association since the turn of the century: how to regulate school transfers for athletes. The MHSAA has handled multiple cases that concern athletically-driven school transfers.

“Basketball and wrestling are the two sports that are the most vocal on the topic of athletic transfers,” says John Johnson, MHSAA director of broadcast properties. Johnson stated that when schools of choice were established in the late 1990’s, more than 75 percent of schools in the district were in favor of regulation. Now, the number has grown to around 80 percent and board executives are becoming impatient with the debate. At the moment, the rule is that if a student transfers to a different school solely for athletic purposes, the student will be punished with a semester suspension from competing in their sport. According to Geoff Kimmerly, Media and Content Coordinator for the MHSAA, the regulations will soon be altered.

“The possible changes would make the transfer rule more sport-specific,” said Kimmerly, “It could allow an athlete to be immediately eligible in any sport he or she did not participate in the previous year at the previous school, but ineligible for 180 days in sports they did play during the previous year at the previous school.”

If the  rule passes, athletes with a situations similar to  Kithier’s might rethink the transfer process because of the ineligibility factor. Certain sports receive more attention concerning athletic transfers than others.  

“The reason why Thomas’s situation is receiving so much attention is because he is a high profiled athlete that gets a lot of media exposure,” says Johnson.

As Johnson said, basketball and wrestling are the sports where athletes receive the most scrutiny for transferring for athletic purposes.

Schools of choice were created to give students a chance to attend a school that excels in the field they are pursuing. For Kithier, that field is basketball. Schools of choice is supposed to provide students with access to other schools that reflect their career paths. Kithier is being denied this right.  All aspects of Kithier’s transfer were shadowed by the fact that his future MSU teammate Foster Loyer is also on the Clarkston roster. Because of this , the MHSAA determined that Kithier’s transfer was purely for athletic purposes and deemed unlawful.

Kithier has said he has moved away from fighting the issue, yet the MHSAA board will continue resolving these issues for years to come.