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The thought process behind reclassification is simple: Stay behind to get ahead.
The controversial practice of student-athlete reclassification, in which a student is held back a year in order to gain an extra year of high school, has become increasingly popular around the nation, but many conferences and schools are taking action to curb the practice.
Such is the case in the Historic Triangle, where the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools, which includes Walsingham Academy and Hampton Roads Academy, voted over the summer to change the conference by-laws to ban the practice of reclassifying.
The Virginia High School League, under which all public schools operate, has long prohibited the practice.
The most recent example of a student-athlete reclassifying locally is WCA boys basketball player Cle’Von Greene, who was initially slated to graduate in 2017 after transferring from Grafton before the current school year, but will now graduate with the 2018 class.
The theory behind reclassification is that an athlete who has another year of training under his or her belt in high school will be more mentally and physically prepared to compete at the collegiate level. This additional academic and athletic experience will, in theory, make the recruit more desirable for universities and hopefully lead to that athlete receiving an athletic scholarship.
In a January 2015 interview with The Virginian-Pilot, TCIS President Michael Allen said the conference voted to ban reclassification to prevent athletes from jumping ship to different schools for athletic purposes. The changes were not approved unanimously by member schools, but enough votes were received to ratify the changes.
On the other hand, the Virginia High School League has taken a hard-line stance on the issue, with VHSL Assistant Director for Compliance Tom Dolan telling WYDaily, “The VHSL does not allow reclassification at any time during a student’s career. There is also no consideration being given to such a process.”
With Walsingham, HRA and all Williamsburg-James City County and York County schools banning the practice, Williamsburg Christian Academy remains as the only option in the Historic Triangle for a student-athlete wanting to reclassify.
While the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association, the governing body that oversees private schools like Walsingham, HRA and WCA, has placed minor restrictions on athletic transfers, there are still loopholes within individual conference by-laws that allow the practice to continue.
For example, the Metro Conference, of which WCA is a member, states in its constitution: “Ten semesters of eligibility shall be allowed for each student beginning the first semester of the freshman year.”
In conjunction with the VISAA’s rules, as long as a student-athlete has never been classified as a senior at any school and does not turn 19 prior to Aug. 1 of the current academic year, that student will be eligible to reclassify and allowed an extra year of high school.
Williamsburg Christian Academy Athletic Director and Boys Basketball Coach Chris Brown defended the practice of reclassifying, saying it can prove beneficial for students beyond just those competing in athletics.
“The non-athletic reclassifications, we don’t talk about because that’s not a story-maker,” he said. “I think it’s talked about because high-profile kids are reclassifying to put themselves in a situation to get a scholarship. Our school believes there are certain situations that present themselves that makes reclassification necessary.”
Reclassification is limited in nature, as a student is only allowed to do so once at Williamsburg Christian Academy. If a student wants to reclassify, Brown said they must hold a meeting with their guardians and school administrators to discuss the matter to decide if reclassification is the best plan of action.
Brown, whose son Dominique reclassified at WCA, said he is aware some student-athletes may seek to reclassify solely for athletic purposes.
However, he denies such a thing has happened in his time at WCA, saying he has “only been involved with kids that are being reclassified for a legitimate reason.”
With Williamsburg Christian Academy as the only local school that allows reclassification, public schools must now contend with the possibility of their top-tier athletes transferring in order to gain an athletic edge.
Also, public schools that opt to play private schools must also do so knowing they might be playing against athletes who have reclassified.
“If we’re playing a private school, we know we are going to have to play against older players,” said Jamestown Boys Basketball Coach Donovan Bridgeforth, who used to coach girls basketball at WCA. “I think it can be used and can be abused. Regardless, you’ve got to prepare your kids for it.”
For Bridgeforth, reclassifying can be a useful tool if it opens doors for student-athletes that were previously closed.
As an example, Bridgeforth is in favor of an athlete reclassifying if it allowed them to receive a free education as a result of a scholarship. On the other hand, Bridgeforth said players looking to enhance their high school careers and win more games for their school should not choose to reclassify, as it abuses the system.
However, Bridgeforth ultimately thinks reclassification is necessary to keep private schools competitive and attract more students.
“I think private schools need it,” he said. “They need to be competitive and make people pay to attend their schools. I don’t think it should be thrown away at all.”