Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

To recruit or not?

Wick's World


Today a modern day Shakespearian quote would sound something like, “To recruit or not to recruit; that is the question.” That includes most major sports — both men’s and women’s — baseball, softball, basketball, football, hockey, volleyball, wrestling and others I may have left out. It also includes young athletes from the high school level all the way though to the professional teams.

During March, basketball’s most exciting month, I should be spending more time outside enjoying spring-like weather and less television watching — especially NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament. For the second straight season, my beloved Minnesota Gophers were not among the nation’s 68 elite collegiate teams that made the cut to play in the tournament and they did not even deserve the NIT tourney. The sports section of my brain said, “Basketball season is over for me. I’ll wait and see if our Minnesota Twins can grant me some relief this year." Following several losing seasons I’m hoping they can get me interested in sports again before I retire to the shuffleboard courts and bingo parlors in a two-bit winter trailer park somewhere in Desert Village, America.

My love affair with basketball went sour quite early this year, beginning with the Minnesota Gophers 0-5 start in the Big Ten Conference. It took a downhill plunge when I attended my first “big city” high school’s basketball tournament game. I expected to see an ugly side of parental unsportsmanlike conduct from the fans and parents that radio and television commentators had been moaning about all season. This game never was close enough for either team’s fans to cry foul or my favorite, “Call them both ways!”

There were several coordinated chants addressed at opponents that can be categorized as taunting in anyone’s repertoire except for those who call themselves sports fans. In my book, a true sportsman displays sportsmanlike conduct. Unfortunately in high school and especially with college student fan club sections, this is far from the truth. Taunting chants are now considered the norm.

For as long as I can remember, recruiting has been considered a part of the game for professional and college teams. The introduction at the high school level was an unintended side effect of the program “open enrollment.” It was thought that by giving parents more choice as to where their children would be educated, the quality of education would become more competitive. To discourage the better athletes and their parents from transferring to another school solely for the purpose of playing basketball or other sports, a clause was inserted that required the student/athlete to sit out a full season before they would become eligible to play. From the onset, open enrollment was widely used to help promote an athlete, not better their education.

The Minnesota state Legislature went to work almost immediately to bend and adjust this strict interpretation aimed at athletes and when I went to try to understand the circumstance regarding a student’s athletic eligibility, I threw my hands up and declared a time out.

What I do understand is that I’ve heard a lot of moaning and groaning about certain high schools that "recruit." The whiners are almost always from the teams that continually feel disadvantaged playing against teams that recruit.

I also know recruiting at the high school level began long before open enrollment. The targets of recruiting then were religious schools that sprung up around the nation. Although private schools, they generally must adhere to public schools standards and regulations. These schools invariably use open enrollment to entice children of their faith to become students at their own schools. Let me point out this is perfectly legal. A consequence of this advantage shows up on the roster of schools that go to the state tournaments year after year. Often at least three of the eight schools at Minnesota state tourneys are private schools. Is it because they have such a broader base of athletes to choose from?

Maybe the large presence of religious schools at state tourneys is a reflection of the NFL that recognizes every football caught in the end zone for a touchdown deserves a “knees to the ground and folded hands to the sky” thanking God that He is on their team’s side.

If “To recruit or not to recruit” is the question, today’s answer must be, if it’s legal, and it generally is, why wouldn’t you recruit? Fair or unfair doesn’t seem to matter. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and seems obviously unfair, but isn’t that often one sure lesson we learn from school? Life is not fair, so get over it or do something about it.


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