Posted: 6:34 pm Sunday, October 30th, 2011
By Post Staff
High school ‘free agency’ is rampant in Palm Beach County, as detailed in a Palm Beach Post investigation. Here are all the stories in a three-part series by Post reporters Matt Porter, Jeff Greer, Charles Elmore and Joel Engelhardt.
* * *
The high school playing fields of Palm Beach County are not equal.
Lax oversight of school transfers, including through magnet programs and a little-known principal’s choice option, allow high school athletes to fashion themselves as free agents in the mold of professionals.
The result is a gross imbalance. Powerhouse teams are built with top players from all corners of the county. Once-proud programs are diminished by the exodus. Much of it is legal, and violations are hard to prove.
* * *
Times are good for Dwyer football.
The Panthers have played a game on ESPN two years in a row. College coaches flock to the Palm Beach Gardens school during recruiting season to get a look at the talent coach Jack Daniels and his staff have developed. Every year produces a new crop of Division I recruits.
Players want to play for Daniels, one of the most successful coaches in Palm Beach County history. Get to know how the magnet school system – and other beneficial factors – in Palm Beach County let the best athletes find their way to Dwyer.
* * *
As he looked across the football field a year ago, Palm Beach Lakes High coach Alonzo Jefferson saw a distressing sight: Kids who should have been his students were playing for his rival.
Those students helped Dwyer High’s Panthers pound Jefferson’s Rams 62-6.
That lopsided matchup has become a common outcome in Palm Beach County’s era of school choice. The system results in fabulously successful all-star teams and also-rans struggling to keep up.
The effect goes beyond the playing field. Student diversity suffers. School spirit plummets. Booster clubs die. Game attendance lags. School prestige crumbles.
“It’s hard to build that sense that we’re going to accomplish anything,” Forest Hill football coach Chris Kokell said, “when everybody abandons you every year.”
* * *
Palm Beach County is reconsidering the wide latitude principals have to hand-select 20 percent of magnet students – including athletes – before a lottery.
Alerted by the Post, school board Chairman Frank Barbieri said what began as a review for academic reasons also will consider whether top athletes use magnets and other programs to jump to powerhouse teams.
* * *
Manipulation of academic choice programs by team-shopping players and talent-stockpiling coaches has happened for years in the nation’s 13th-largest school district, state athletic association records examined by the Post show.
As rare and hard to prove as they are, athletic recruiting cases offer a window into conversations that make coaches sound as if they can influence magnet admissions, and cast players as free agents who use choice programs as cover.
At least 16 written complaints about recruiting were pursued by the Florida High School Athletic Association but only two cases resulted in penalties against Palm Beach County high schools between 2007 and early 2011, case files show.
Tuesday afternoon, Post reporters Matt Porter and Jeff Greer joined ESPN 760-AM’s Evan Cohen to discuss their three-part series on ‘free agency’ in Palm Beach County high school sports. Porter and Greer explained the reasons behind the story, discussed reaction to the story and offered their thoughts what could come next.
* * *
Students trying to transfer to another school in Palm Beach County might find several programs at the district’s largest high schools unavailable in future years.
Several of these schools are exploring turning some of their choice magnet programs that were open to students countywide into “in-house” programs open only to students living within their attendance boundaries.
* * *
LIVE CHAT ON FRIDAY WITH MATT PORTER AND JEFF GREER