Recruitment or Undue Influence?

Coaches and players offer insight on recruitment habits

Recruitment. It’s an exciting word, especially for those who are subject to it. We usually hear a lot about recruitment of gifted athletes in their senior year of high school, for basketball, baseball, football, and so on. Recruitment is an essential part of college sports and a tool that the best coaches and programs use to build successful teams and build legacies. But recruitment doesn’t only happen at the college level; it happens in middle school as well.
However, it shouldn’t happen at all according to the MSHSAA Handbook in the “Undue Influence” section. There are several rules stated clearly prohibiting recruitment of middle schoolers and the penalties are explicit in their intention to prevent such behavior. Yet, it still happens frequently in the St. Louis area. Schools, predominantly private, continue to exploit young athletes and pull them out from under the public school that they are familiar with.
Over the years there have been a number of Central student athletes approached by private school coaches to persuade them to join their school for athletic benefit.
“It was kinda hard because I was young so didn’t know what was going on really,” freshman Joe Siervo said regarding being recruited as a young middle schooler.
Most of the kids that go to Parkway Central Middle know that they will go to Parkway Central High School, however, this is not the case for all kids. Siervo is a prime example of someone who’s future after middle school was uncertain. Approached at a private school’s basketball camp by that school’s basketball coach, Siervo was very flattered, so he decided that he wanted to go to that private school for high school. But it was a rushed decision for Siervo and his family.
“They gave me a lot of paperwork to fill out and I had to take test to see if I was eligible to go there, and Ipassed. So I only had a couple of weeks to tell if I wanted to go to (the private school),” Siervo said. Siervo would go on as a middle schooler set on attending that private high school, however he did not end up going there. The reason, unrelated to school or basketball, was controversy among that private school’s leadership. But in hindsight, Siervo believes he made the right decision.
“You don’t need to go to a private school for education or to get noticed for sports,” Siervo said, “Deandre Campbell went to a public school and he got noticed by colleges… I realized that there was no reason to leave, I have friends here. I’d rather stay here.”
Public school coaches take serious offense to private school recruitment, no surprise. The Parkway North head football coach, Bob Bunton, has a strong opinion on this matter.
“I would consider any school (public or private) that offers any young student-athlete ANY financial gains to attend a school a very serious issue. When you start dealing with money for athletic ability, I consider that a very unfair advantage,” Bunton said.

Recruitment has become a more prevalent issue in recent years with social media and the reach private school coaches have using that as a tool.
“Coaches post on Twitter where they got their guys to go for college,” Central’s head football coach, Mark Goldenberg said.
Head football coach Jeff Duncan of Parkway West believes that recruiting has become more aggressive recently as well.
“I think that this is an issue and it is becoming more and more common each year,” Bunton said.
How do private school coaches contact athletes? A number of ways, some of Bunton’s players experienced aggressive recruitment through letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls, even after the student has informed the school that they do not wish to attend their school. Duncan knows that coaches will go to their junior league or select team games and talk to them before and after. Freshman Cam Harris, who was also recruited, can verify that this happens.
“They would actually come to a few of games and talk to me after the game,” Harris said.
According to the MSHSAA Handbook, section 2.6.3, is a direct violation of the rules. This is a problem of multiple levels. To Goldenberg it is both a moral and ethical issue. Not only that the rules set by the state are being ignored and broken, but also kids can find themselves exploited by these schools if they don’t meet their standards.
“I have also seen what happens to kids who are not good enough and then are ‘released’ by the private schools due to athletic ability. That is wrong,” Bunton said.
Goldenberg has also seen a change in who takes part in the recruiting
“It used to be only the larger schools that were the issue… but some smaller private schools that have gotten on the bandwagon and are sometimes more aggressive in their recruitment.”
So how do coaches entice kids to leave an environment they are already comfortable in? Assurances of success in athletics and academics, not to mention the financial aid.
“[The private school coach] said my academics would be better and that I would have more success in basketball,” Siervo said.
Some private schools have tremendous success in athletics and impressive academic records. But the fact of the matter is, so does Parkway Central. With numerous banners and plaques to show our success in recent years athletically and impressive academics of our own, deceit would certainly have to be involved in any pitch to oust Central. Deceit isn’t mentioned as a violation in the MSHSAA Handbook, but is used routinely for the purpose of impressing and luring impressionable kids to their school for their own gain. Public school coaches believe that this process is wrong and should be discontinued.
So what is being done to combat the recruitment? Football and basketball assistant coach Jon Hardy who works at Parkway Central middle school, has an up close look at what can be done to sell Central to recruited middle schoolers.
“We talk to them and talk about our sports and academics to try and show them they don’t need to leave for a private school,” Hardy said.
Coach Duncan also has a way to reach middle schoolers as well.
“I have three football coaches that teach at the middle school who promote West High and our football program.”
The problem really falls back on the public schools regarding this issue. Seeing that little is done to keep undue influence in check, it is up to the public schools to sell themselves to kids, and keep them in a familiar environment that also inspire and produces success.