A Matter of Choice: WS/Forsyth County Schools have won 36 State Championships in the past 12 years

from Mason Linker at www.journalnow.com and on the front page of the Sunday Winston-Salem Journal.

This is a long, but very interesting article and we have left you with just a lead-in taste here, so go by the above link and check out the entire piece by Mason Linker……

High-school sports teams in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system have had a strong run of success over the last 12 years — a span marked by the use of a “choice-transfer” policy.

“Because of the policy, any time our team wins a state title, it will be scrutinized by somebody, and usually, it’s sour grapes,” said Kurt Telford, the principal of West Forsyth High School.

There is no correct answer, or correct side of the argument, on whether the transfer policy has helped Forsyth County teams.

The policy essentially gives students the choice of applying to transfer to schools outside their geographic attendance districts for a variety of reasons, including academics, athletics and transportation. Students don’t have to list a reason for transferring on their applications.

In the 12 years before the policy was implemented, the system’s high-school teams combined to win 12 N.C. High School Athletic Association championships. In the 12 years since, they have combined to win 36 — although it should be noted that four new schools have opened in that time, raising the number of the system’s high schools in NCHSAA competition from eight to 11.

Buddy Collins, a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board, said he isn’t sure if the championship run is because of the policy, or if it is coincidental.

“I don’t know,” said Collins, who is in his 10th year on the school board. “I think athletics runs in cycles. We have gone through a time when a number of good athletes have come through the system, and maybe the next 13 years will not replicate that.

“I do think it made teams better,” he said. “The coaches worked hard before, but I think they have to work even harder to make sure teams are competitive and that their players are happy in the school. To that extent, I think it’s made everybody better.”

Local coaches and administrators are largely in favor of the choice-transfer policy, and some have warmed to it over the years after being against it in the early years.

The policy was voted in by the school board in time for the 1997-98 school year, after an aborted plan to redraw district lines. Don Martin, the superintendent of the school system, said that the board originally considered redrawing district lines to balance enrollments at Mount Tabor High School, which was at capacity, and Reynolds High School, which wasn’t.

“It was before e-mail, and I bet there were 500 letters,” Martin said. “People were all fired up.”

He said that a school-board member came up with the choice-transfer plan.

“We said if we voluntarily allow them to transfer to fill up space available, as long as people provide their own transportation, that we could fill” the schools, Martin said.

“And they did.”

He said that the choice-transfer policy is a “cleaner process” than the old hardship-transfer policy.

“People do have a lot of reasons for making transfers,” Martin said. “At one time, there was a lot of criticism of Carver football, but are all these people transferring to Carver? We looked at where everybody lived on that team, and I think there were three kids on that team that didn’t live in the attendance area, and they weren’t stars.”

Howard West, the boys basketball coach and athletics director at Reagan High School, was the basketball coach at Reynolds when the Demons won three straight NCHSAA Class 4-A championships (2000-02). And although plenty pointed fingers and accusations at West’s program because it had players from outside the attendance district, most of those players chose to transfer to Reynolds before high school and enrolled there as ninth-graders.

“It’s always amazed me that it’s OK for kids to change schools when they have a special interest in technology or the arts, something they might be doing to help them prepare for college,” West said. “But it seems to me that when an (athlete) decides to transfer, and the system approves it, not the coach, they are treated as if they are doing something wrong.

“There are two sets of thought in the public eye. Nobody ever says anything about kids who transfer to get to a perceived better academic school. They are looked at as smart.”

West, a strong supporter of the policy, said that the lack of a groundswell to change the policy is an indication that it is working for the better.

“If kids can only come through school at one time in their life, and they can be at a place they feel good about and that gives them the best chance for success, why shouldn’t they?” West asked. “The policy does a great job of providing kids a chance to be in a positive atmosphere.”

Martin said that West’s players at Reynolds, including a nucleus of strong players who would have otherwise attended North Forsyth High School, were at Reynolds legitimately.

“And you can ask why they wanted those spots, and they were all good basketball players,” Martin said. “And one of them moved there that lived on my street. There was a whole network of friends talking to each other. I don’t think Howard West did a thing, and I don’t think there is anything to it.”

The NCHSAA Class 4-A basketball trophy is back in Winston-Salem after Mount Tabor won it in March for the first time. The Spartans had one key choice transfer — guard C.J. Harris, who played his freshman year at East Forsyth and then transferred. Harris, the Spartans’ most pivotal player, has signed with Wake Forest University.

“I felt differently (about the choice policy) 10 years ago,” Coach Andy Muse of Mount Tabor said. “But at the same time, I think we should draw lines, and go to where you are supposed to go. You will still have cycles. I will probably benefit from school choice in the near future, and I have in the last two years with C.J. Harris and Josh Hicks (who transferred from Greensboro Day School).”

Muse said that Mount Tabor was at capacity for the first five or six years the policy was in place, so it couldn’t accept transfers.

“Looking at the athletes that have come into Mount Tabor since we have opened up, there is a big difference,” Muse said.

Ron Jessup, a former baseball coach in the county who recently retired as the principal at North Forsyth, said he is not against choice transfer but added that those who think that the policy doesn’t have an impact on athletics are “being a little naive.”

“When a school is becoming an attractive school for parents who think that school will ensure a son or daughter getting a scholarship — and that’s how parents think oftentimes — that will drive some really quality athletes to those schools and will weaken another school’s program,” Jessup said.

“Charlotte Independence (in football) is a great example of that, and Reynolds (basketball) was,” he said. “Choice does have an impact on championships, absolutely. If you get the better athletes in your school, you have a better chance of winning. But if you are a good athlete, it doesn’t matter which school you attend. You will be noticed.”


  1. So when playoff time comes;
    (1) Let the schools with allowable tranfers play each other.
    (2) Let the non-tranferable schools play each other.
    (3)Let the private schools play each other.
    Where will this end? I liked it better when you went to school where you lived instead of moving to a school zone to live.

  2. that changed a long time ago and nothing has been the same ever since—-sports or otherwise.
    robert jones

  3. This is obviously an advantage. If you have 2 or 3 transfers on a basketball, the team can go from mediocre to state champs. It is unfair that counties with more restrictive policies must compete with open enrollment counties. Is it going to change? No. Is it worth arguing about? No. When Mount Tabor(for example) wins a state championship, we all know that they have the inherent advantage.

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