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Lawmakers draft bill to reverse new controversial high school sports transfer law

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Lawmakers draft bill to reverse new controversial high school sports transfer law

Sep 12, 2023 | 4:12 pm ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
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Lawmakers draft bill to reverse new controversial high school sports transfer law
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Del. Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, holds a press conference Tuesday at the State Capitol alongside Del. Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, Del. Scot Heckert, R-Wood, and Del. Charles Sheedy, R-Marshall. (Amelia Ferrell Knisely | West Virginia Watch)

A group of lawmakers have drafted a bill to reverse the state’s new high school sports transfer law, which they said is already compromising football player safety and hurting communities. 

The current law, passed earlier this year, allows student-athletes the opportunity to change schools one time during their high school career without having to change residency. Previously, state rules made a student sit out a year of competition if they transferred unless they received a waiver.

The new student-athlete transfer bill has been blamed for a slew of lopsided football scores of 70, 80 and even 90 points. Some of those highest-scoring teams included multiple transfers for this season.

High school sports transfers have multiplied “tenfold,” according to Del. Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha. 

The Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) is requiring schools to report transfer data by this Friday, and information will be released afterward, Ferrell said.

He led a press conference Tuesday at the State Capitol with other Republican House members to announce news of a potential law reversal.

“Right now, we have the Wild West,” Ferrell said. “We have students who aren’t just transferring in the district to another school. Now, they’re transferring out of the county.”

“This is not a freedom bill,” he added.

Lawmakers said their action is mostly driven by overwhelming complaints from constituents and a worry for player safety.

In St. Albans, Del. Walter Hall said younger and smaller football players have been on the field more often because they’re down to one senior player. There have already been player injuries, one that required an ambulance, he said. 

“We are concerned in St. Albans that we’re even going to have a team to fill by five games … at this school that’s been around over 100 years,” said Hall, R-Kanawha. “That’s shameful.”

Ferrell, who has been a teacher and coach, also expressed concerns for student safety because kids are now traveling long distances to attend school and play sports. 

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw is in support of the reversal, Ferrell said, and lawmakers have plans to fasttrack the bill through the House during the regular 60-day Legislative Session in January, or possibly before. 

The House passionately debated the transfer bill at length in March. Some lawmakers, including Ferrell, felt they were “shoehorned” into voting for it because it was added to a bill that allows Hope Scholarship recipients who attend private school or homeschool settings to participate on public school teams. 

The new legislation reversing that decision could face a tougher crowd in the Senate, who overwhelmingly signed off on the legislation. 

Last week, Gov. Jim Justice asked lawmakers to take a look at the bill, saying it was “a mistake.”

“We are going to destroy high school sports all across this state if we don’t watch out what we’re doing,” the governor said

The WVSSAC recently found evidence showing three coaches broke the recruiting rule ahead of this football season, WSAZ reported.