Playing for a winning high school team can sometimes be irresistible. In 2007, a Charlotte Observer investigation found several Charlotte Mecklenburg School students lied about their addresses to get on top teams.
The district declared more than 20 students ineligible to play. Five high schools had to forfeit their seasons and a handful of coaches resigned or were fired. CMS tightened its policies around athletic eligibility and tracking it. Five years later, many of those same procedures are in place and violations are in the single digits. CMS officials say they’re successful at keeping lying to play sports in check.
WFAE’s Lisa Miller joins us now in the studio:
Kevin Kniestedt: Good morning, Lisa.
LM: Good morning.
KK: So what are some of those procedures CMS put in place six years ago?
LM: Some of them are basically a heads up to families that lying about addresses will land you and possibly your team in trouble. Students and parents have to sign honor codes that say they haven’t falsified any mortgage statements or utility bills that are supposed to prove they live where they say they live. They also promise to report other athletes who may be lying. CMS set up an anonymous hotline too to report suspected violations. Any calls open up an investigation into a student. The Athletics department gets the students records and if there’s any question documents have been falsified, they involve CMS police.
KK: Have those changes worked to curb the amount of lying that goes on to play on high school sports team?
LM: Well, violations are certainly down from 2008. In most years since then, the number of residency violations has hovered around seven. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean CMS has caught all instances of lying. But the amount of calls to the hotline is down significantly too. Five years ago, that phone was ringing a lot. The district’s athletics director Sue Doran says she’s received fewer than a dozen calls this year and she takes that as proof that the system is indeed working. Here she is:
DORAN: The process did its job. It was effective. And it made families aware that if they were not being forthcoming in one aspect of athletic eligibility, there was a potential that it would be reported and would be looked into.
KK: You mentioned CMS police became part of these residency investigations. So what does “looking into” exactly mean?
LM: Well, sometimes it’s kind of a stake out situation.
LM: Yes. If the district thinks a family has falsified documents they call CMS police to do a home visit. Here’s sort-of a case study from earlier this year. A detective arrived at an apartment around 5:30 in the morning. He checked to see if the mother’s car was around. Didn’t see it and, so, waited for a light to come on and knocked on the door to see if the student Ronald Albritton and his mother were actually there. Ronald transferred to Hough high school last year after his parents separated. He’s a junior there and played football there. They were living in Mooresville and now he says he lives with his mother in Huntersville. Here he is:
ALBRITTON: It was about 6:15 in the morning. I was still getting ready for school actually and my uncle came and told me this guy from CMS was here. I didn’t know who it was or anything about it. I just came in there and the dude was inside just looking around.
LM: The officer asked him why his mom wasn’t there and then searched the apartment for signs that they both lived there. The officer searched the closet, the bedroom and bathroom. And CMS issued a violation that Ronald didn’t meet the residency requirement and had to sit out from all sports for the next year. His family says the police officer missed her bedroom and is fighting that decision.
KK: That sounds pretty invasive.
LM: That’s certainly how the family feels. And, actually, it was the second home visit they received. The first time came after an anonymous call to the hotline last year. They were living in another apartment a few miles away then. His mom says that time she let the officer in and answered a lot of questions, many of them pretty personal.
KK: Are there many other districts doing these home visits?
LM: Yes, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association says other districts do this too. The group says the investigation that led to all of those violations in 2008 was a wake-up call to districts across the state. Now, those districts don’t have police forces, but they may send a social worker or assistant principal to check up on addresses.
KK: So why do districts go to these lengths to investigate these allegations?
LM: Now, I don’t want to give the impression that CMS police are regularly dropping in on homes. CMS says that doesn’t happen often. The Albritton’s home visit came in early September and CMS’s Police Chief says that’s the only one his department has done since then. But to answer your question, here’s the director of the state’s High School Athletic Association Davis Whitfield.
DW: We try to teach sportsmanship, honesty, fair competition. Those are the values that we believe we teach in high school athletics. To me, it’s the purest form of athletics that we have. If we get into the model of recruitment, the haves and have-nots etc., we’re going to create a system that does not promote fair play or fair competition.
LM: The association also made some changes after the CMS wake-up call. It now requires coaches and schools to go through a checklist to make sure they’re doing due diligence to check on students’ eligibility. And this year, the group now requires students to sit out of all sports for a year if they change districts without actually changing homes.