Parents at a summer Little League All-Star tournament will have to be much more careful of what they say or who they talk to. The same goes for parents of grade-school-athletes playing travel baseball, softball, soccer or basketball in the summer.
For the first time in history, the Indiana High School Athletic Association's bylaws on recruitment are no longer being applied to high school students alone. With the passing of Bylaw 20-2 this past summer, potential student-athletes as young as 10 could lose their high school eligibility if recruitment is found.
IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox said the association in Indianapolis that governs high school sports in the state has heard reports of outside people influencing youngsters to attend a certain school to play sports.
If found out, a fifth-grader could lose his or her high school athletic eligibility.
"We've never discussed what happens before the ninth grade," Cox said.
The bylaw was authored by the IHSAA's executive staff and approved April 30 by the Board of Directors by a 16-0 vote. Merrillville Athletic Director Janis Qualizza was at the meeting and agrees 100 percent with the new bylaw.
She said a day doesn't go by where one of her middle school coaches comes into the Pirates' athletic office and tells stories about students being recruited to leave by an unaffiliated lay coach.
"Ten years old, come on," Qualizza said. "The recruiting has gone bonkers. We have middle school kids telling our coaches they should go to another school because of this or that. It's crazy.
"I don't know the answer to stopping all of this. But we have to try."
This is the first school year where Bylaw 20-2 applies. Cox said no case has come up under 20-2 to date.
Crown Point attorney Michael Jasaitis has taken on the IHSAA in many eligibility cases through the years. He expects Bylaw 20-2 will keep him and other attorneys busy once eligibility cases come to the forefront.
"This new IHSAA bylaw appears to be a rule with terms so vague that reasonable persons would have to guess at its meaning and would apply the rule differently, which may render it invalid pursuant to the concepts of vagueness and overbreadth," Jasaitis said. "Such a rule also could be overreaching, especially in light of the fact that a high school athletic association is attempting to punish 10-year-olds, which would seem to be outside of its jurisdictional authority.
"Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what a court would do if this rule is challenged in the future."
Jasaitis pointed out one line in 20-2 that shows what he calls the vagueness of the rule. It reads, "A student with a history of athletic recruitment is a student who was, at any time after the student’s Tenth (10th) birthday, recruited by an individual or agency which has a reputation or history of recruiting students who have shown athletic talent, have shown potential athletic talent or whose physical appearance was consistent with those of an athlete ..."
"What does that mean?" Jasaitis said. "We're going to look at the physical appearance of a 10-year-old?"
Marvin Rea, Bowman Academy athletic director and boys basketball coach, said also he is confused about how this will develop. His 2010 Class A state championship team had six players who played for him in AAU ball when they were 9.
He was not associated with Bowman at that time. He was an engineer.
"If this rule was written 10 years ago, I would've been in violation, or maybe not," Rea said. "What is their definition of recruiting? Coaches have camps for grade-school and middle-school kids everywhere. Can you have clinics? Can you have camps? Can baseball or softball coaches give lessons or coach travel teams where they can influence kids to attend their schools?"
Many local AAU programs use high school gyms for practice. Is that now a violation if the student is 10? Or 11 or 12?
Cox knows his association's move is historic. But he and his membership also believe that recruitment at the lowest levels has brought this about.
"We've heard scenarios where sixth-graders are being identified as potential athletes by outside people," Cox said. "We're trying to combat that."