LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County's student-athlete transfer policy has come under fire from one of its own School Board members.
Board Vice Chairman Steve Luikart blasted the year-old rule on Tuesday as unfair, inconsistent and punitive. Bolstered by the plight of one of his former students, whose children were denied the right to participate in sports at Ridgewood High, Luikart called on his colleagues to revamp the rules.
"I think we had great intentions as a board," Luikart said during a workshop. "Now I think there are some corrections we need to make."
District officials suggested the policy, which requires all students switching high schools to apply for permission to play sports or face sitting out a year, has worked as intended.
Since the policy was put in place, no schools received fines or had games or titles rescinded for allowing students to play who should not have. In the past, schools including Land O'Lakes High and Wiregrass Ranch High have been penalized for infractions, noted Ray Bonti, executive director for operations, who oversees the policy.
"Do we want to hurt any kids? Of course not," Bonti said. "But any time this happened … it was a black eye to the program, to the school, to the district, because we didn't know what we were doing, who we were putting on our teams."
District athletic director Phil Bell noted that the county heard 184 appeals to the participation policy and granted 94 percent.
"I think what you asked it to do, it has done," Bell said.
Luikart looked to Florida High School Athletic Association officials in attendance to seek guidance on whether its eligibility rulings should govern student participation.
FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing withheld judgment on Pasco's policy, though he noted it has been upheld in court cases. He reminded the board it must think globally, considering all student-athletes and not just the ones making appeals.
"It's very easy to get the empathy of everybody who wants Johnny to play," Dearing said.
But Johnny doesn't just play for the local school. He plays in a district, might compete for state titles, and all the other athletes deserve equal treatment, Dearing said.
"You want to make sure all your students play on a level field," Dearing said.
Luikart made a motion to suspend the policy until it could be reworked, but failed to draw a second. The board set the issue for another workshop in two weeks.