Chet Godfrey was undefeated as a high school freshman pitcher in 2008.
He batted nearly .400.
As a sophomore, Godfrey did a great job operating the scoreboard.
He was ineligible for the 2009 season after transferring from Sacred Heart High School in Vineland to Millville last spring. Godfrey said he made the move primarily for financial reasons. He had to do something during home games and operating the scoreboard was it.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association toughened the penalty for the 2008-09 season for athletes who transferred without a "bona fide change of residence." The ineligibility period went from 30 to 365 days.
The NJSIAA defines bona fide change of residence as a move from one public school district to another, even if you are a student in a private school. New Jersey is now one of 38 states with the yearlong ban.
The new rule combined with the bad economy to cause one of the biggest changes on the state's high school sports scene in 20 years.
"It was the perfect storm," NJSIAA Assistant Director Bob Baly said.
Public high schools wanted the tougher sanction on transfers to cut down on recruiting of elite athletes by private schools.
But the yearlong penalty made private school athletes who were struggling with tuition payments think twice about transferring to public schools. Even if they did transfer, they, like Godfrey, were ineligible.
The harsher penalty created controversy and increased phone calls and eligibility appeals to the NJSIAA.
"You're taking away from a kid's ability to play," Godfrey said. "You're taking something away from a kid who is dedicated to the game. Why would you want to do that?"
The new edict grew out of the acrimony between the state's public and parochial schools. Public schools, especially in northern New Jersey, complained they couldn't compete against parochial and private schools because those schools attract athletes from all over New Jersey as well as neighboring states.
"We put a committee together to look at the whole issue of public and non-public," NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko said. "The membership was saying (the transfer rule) wasn't tough enough. The (old) policy was too lenient."
Public schools wanted to avoid losing talented players to elite nonpublic programs. Schools also wanted to stop athletes from changing schools multiple times during their high school careers. Schools do not want students trying to transfer just because one school's team wins more or attracts more attention.
The NJSIAA executive committee, which consists of athletic directors, principals and superintendents from throughout the state, voted 30-2 in March 2008 to approve the yearlong ban.
Not only did the rule stiffen the penalty, it affected more athletes.
Under the old rule, only athletes who received varsity letters from their previous school were ineligible. But the new rule affects sophomore through senior transfers who participate in sports on any level.
The regulation does give freshmen a break. Those who participate on the varsity level and transfer before Sept. 1 of their sophomore year sit only 30 days. Freshmen who did not play varsity can play immediately.
NJSIAA officials expected the changes to cause a ruckus. The economy made it worse. Baly received daily calls from parents and athletic directors. Parents wanted the rule explained. Some, according to Timko, wanted to appeal before their child even transferred.
The poor economy caused many families to reassess their expenses, and that's what Godfrey's family did. There was not only the tuition, but the cost and the grind of traveling back and forth from Millville to Vineland.
"It's not like we didn't like (Sacred Heart)," said Chet's father, Ken. "It's not like we couldn't afford it. Things just started piling up. We've got college to think about paying for, too. We have two other sons, too."
The NJSIAA eligibility committee heard 26 appeals in 2007-08 - none of them involved transfers. The committee heard 67 cases in 2008-09 - 46 of them involved students transferring from nonpublic schools to public high schools.
The rule allowed hardship waivers to be granted for "unforeseeable" and "unavoidable" conditions that "impose a severe burden" on students or their families. That burden can't be for a sports reason, such as a lack of playing time or a disagreement with a coach.
The eligibility committee found itself examining families' finances to see whether they met the hardship criteria.
The committee granted waivers in 39 of the 46 cases it heard of athletes transferring from nonpublic to public high schools. Nearly all of those waivers were for financial reasons. The waivers made the athletes eligible immediately or 30 days into the season.
"Some were clear," Baly said. "A kid was going to Delbarton. His father was working at Lehman Brothers and lost his job. He couldn't afford the tuition."
Godfrey didn't have a hearing. He transferred so close to the start of the season it would have been fruitless. The season would have been all but over by the time his case was decided.
The number of appeals from nonpublic athletes shows that at least for one year the new rule backfired somewhat on the public schools.
"Most of the appeals were people who couldn't afford the nonpublics," Timko said. "They were going to come back into their own districts and maybe help them out."
Still, many public school officials support the tougher sanction. They say the controversy should die down because people are more familiar with the rule and the economy is improving.
Don Robbins, president of the Cape-Atlantic League and Vineland's athletic director, was on the executive committee in 2008 and voted in favor of the rule. He said he would vote that way again.
"I think it's a great rule to guard against the blue chipper getting recruited," he said. "The thing that makes me a little leery is what it does to the program kid. The kid who plays soccer, tennis or football for the love of it and has to for one reason or another leave a school. But that's why you have an eligibility committee, which makes decisions in the best interest of the kids."
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