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South Dakota schools will vote on a proposal that would make students ineligible to play varsity sports for one year if they open-enroll to attend a new school.

The issue arises after 31 districts petitioned the South Dakota High School Activities Association to change its rules for competing. The association’s 181 member schools will vote this spring. Approval by 60 percent, or 109 schools, would make the change take effect July 1 and apply to the 2012-13 school year.

“I signed it. I don’t think open enrollment was ever meant to be something people would use to play sports in a different school,” said Jim Holbeck, superintendent in Harrisburg.

Open enrollment allows a student living in one attendance area to go to school in another attendance area without his or her family having to move. Families take advantage of this option for a variety of reasons ranging from academics to course offerings to transportation.

Rules allow a student switching schools for the first time to play varsity sports immediately, if the switch occurs before the school year starts. A student changing schools during the academic year is eligible after waiting nine weeks.

The change would make a student sit out a full 12 months before competing on a varsity level, though he or she still would be eligible for freshman, sophomore and junior varsity sports.

Wayne Carney, executive director of the state activities association, said there are 190 students this year who have transferred their athletic eligibility.

“It’s kind of evolved where enough schools have had it negatively impact their programs,” he said.

Holbeck said there has been a fear from the start that students would move simply for sports.

“By and large, there hasn’t been an overabundance of kids that have done it, but keep it for what it was meant for — academics,” he said. “It’s kind of demoralizing to the home town when you have kids that are switching schools just to get on the best team.”

Dan Whalen, athletic director for Pierre schools, said the current rules create a loophole that should be closed. He said the 190 mobile athletes is a significant number.

“If we’re truthful … how many of those moves are academic, sincerely?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s an honorable thing to win a state title at one school and then switch schools to try to win another title. It’s self-serving and doesn’t teach kids sportsmanship. It doesn’t teach kids loyalty.”

Steve Kueter, activities director and football coach at O’Gorman High School, thinks the change is unnecessary and has the potential of depriving worthy students of a chance to play varsity sports.

“I don’t think it’s something we need to do to these students. They have such a small window of opportunity to play sports,” Kueter said.

Open enrollment began in 1997, with approval from that year’s Legislature, to give families options in where children would attend school. The practice has grown to where 7,436 of the state’s children are open-enrolling this year, 5.9 percent of the total K-12 enrollment of 125,180.

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