West Virginia High School Athlete Transfer Bill Passes Senate | News, Sports, Jobs

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld said Senate Bill 262 would give student-athletes the ability to transfer schools once and still be eligible to play West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission high school sports. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — A bill that would make it easier for West Virginia high school students to transfer and continue playing sports passed the Senate on Wednesday. Senate Bill 262 allows students to transfer schools and retain athletic eligibility and passed by a 27-5 vote Wednesday morning. SB 262 would require the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to change the rules for the 2023-2024 school year next year to allow students to transfer schools and retain their athletic eligibility once during a student’s four years of high school. The bill also requires that the state board of education, when reviewing the WVSSAC rule, ensure that it meets the legislature’s intent not to require the student to take a year off for transferring schools during or after the student’s ninth grade. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was never taken up by the House Education Committee. Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was the lead sponsor of both last year’s bill and SB 262. He said he’s spoken to the House of Representatives and expects the bill to be taken up this time.
“I’ve had some very encouraging conversations with our brothers in the house to get this across the finish line and to help students across the state.” Weld said. Weld said he was motivated to bring the bill back this year after the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in November to block a March 2022 decision by the Ohio County Circuit Court in favor of a legal guardian and their child. The WVSSAC sought an injunction blocking the district court’s injunction against its transfer of residence rule. The district court ruled that was the rule “random and moody” and “Just Unconstitutional”
The child in question, a 2020-2021 grade 10 student at John Marshall High School, had transferred to Wheeling Central Catholic High School in August 2021. As an athlete who played softball and basketball on recreational sports teams, the child learned that she would not be eligible to participate in sports at Wheeling Catholic due to the WVSSAC Residence-Transfer Rule. The rule says so “If a student transfers from one secondary school to another secondary school during the school year, the student is ineligible for 365 days from the date of enrollment unless there is a change of residence in good faith. Students who are ineligible under this rule may practice during the ineligibility period provided they meet all other eligibility requirements…”
The rule also allows the WVSSAC to waive the rule in certain circumstances. The child asked WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan and the WVSSAC Board for a waiver, but was denied. The student appealed to the WVSSAC Review Board, which upheld the earlier denial of the waiver. The child’s guardian then filed a complaint in the Ohio County Circuit Court. According to the WVSSAC, the Residence-Transfer Rule exists to help students with this “settle down” to a new school before being allowed to play high school sports. The rule does not prevent the student from joining or coaching a sports team, but is prohibited from participating in games supervised by the WVSSAC.
“This girl was ruled by the Supreme Court not to be allowed to play sports.” Weld said. “This judgment really motivated me. I think it’s very important that we give every student all the opportunities they should have.”
Weld said the residency transfer rule only applies to in-state students, but not students moving to West Virginia from out-of-state or in-state private schools that are not members of the WVSSAC.
“This acclimatization period does not apply if you are from out of state.” Weld said. “If you move here from California, you can get on this team and go out and play. If you’re transferring from a non-member school… but if you’re transferring from a public school to a private school, you have to sit out. You don’t need this settling-in period for all the other children who are moving in from abroad.”
SB 262 is also personal to Weld. He was a freshman at Madonna High School in Weirton in the mid-1990s and was on a summer swim team but transferred to Brooke High School.
“I wanted to be on Brooke’s swim team, so I appealed the decision.” Weld said. “I was allowed to play but not before going through a trial and two months of incapacity to play.”
The bill was defeated by two of the Senate’s three-member Democratic factions, including Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, and Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion. The bill was also opposed by Sens. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, Ben Queen, R-Harrison, and Randy Smith, R-Tucker. Smith said the bill could give counties with larger schools an unfair advantage over more rural schools with smaller teams. It could also lead to other schools trying to poach successful student-athletes from other schools.
“We don’t send our kids to school to be superstar athletes. We send our children to school to get an education.” said Smith. “I just feel like we’re opening it up, if you don’t like your coach then look elsewhere. I think we’re setting a bad precedent with that.”
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected]

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