TAMPA — A soccer player since he was 4, Kevin Atari wanted to play for Plant High School in his senior year.
But after transferring from the private Berkeley Preparatory School, he was told he couldn't play due to a new Hillsborough County school athletic policy.
It took two hearings, one before an appeals committee and one before the School Board, to get him on the team. By that time, he had missed the first month of games.
"It was like torture for him," said his father, Husein Atari, also a longtime soccer player and coach. "It did not make sense at all."
Kevin's case was the first to test a policy the district created with great care and a series of public hearings after last year's football cheating scandal at Armwood High School.
State sports officials accused Armwood families of falsifying utility bills and other documents to enroll players in the school, long a football powerhouse.
The Hawks had to forfeit 15 victories and a Class 6A state title. The school was fined $12,000.
The idea behind the new policy was to take decision-making away from the schools and give it to an unbiased committee. Students are automatically told they can't play for one year after transferring from another high school. The committee is given specific criteria under which it can reverse that decision.
"The policy was far too rigid, and it needs to be more general," School Board Chairwoman April Griffin said at a workshop Thursday, where members agreed to work with staff on revisions.
Added board member Cindy Stuart: "I think there are things that we have not thought of that will come before us."
The four reasons the committee can now allow a transfer student to play are:
• The family has made a "full and complete move" including a transfer of mail and utilities.
• The student's guardian died or went to prison, making the student a ward of the court.
• The student got married.
• The district transferred the student for a specific list of reasons that includes school choice or an individualized education program for special-needs students.
"I think the policy is over-written," said board member Candy Olson, who will work with staff and the school district attorney on the revisions. "It is way more specific than most of our policies."
For example, she said, sometimes the mail continues to arrive at a home after a child leaves because of the parents' divorce. But, if the policy is taken literally, that could stop an athlete from playing ball.
Olson said she wants to see broader language.
Twenty-one cases have been heard since Nov. 27, most resulting in favor of the students.
Griffin asked to see the revisions within a month. Adopting them will require more hearings.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]