Robert K. Cato

Letters, texts and phone calls. Promises of championships. Offers of big-money scholarships. Another day in the college sports recruiting wars? No, it’s what local kids as young as 10 are being deluged with—from some of Philadelphia’s most elite private high schools

Since the PIAA doesn’t have an investigative arm and can only hold hearings into alleged recruiting violations when an outside party brings the evidence, there is little likelihood the illegal recruiting will stop. “There’s no real fear of actually getting caught, which is why some folks feel they can do it with impunity,” Stone admits.

The recruitment of grade-school players is bad enough, but high-school coaches also have to worry about other schools poaching athletes once they’ve spent a year or two on campus (which is also a violation of PIAA rules). “It frustrates us quite a bit,” Germantown Academy head of school Connor says. “They’re trying to bring kids in for their senior years. Our biggest competitions are the high-end Catholic academies. They have scholarship money.” But it’s just not the Prep and La Salle, Connor says. Reports of other Catholic League schools’ poaching efforts are rampant.

The switching isn’t always the work of a dastardly coach. According to one AD, early last fall, Friends League athletic directors were contacted by the father of a basketball player looking to change schools. Again. He’d already left an Inter-Ac program the previous June and landed at a Friends League institution, where he “re-classified” — was held back a year — despite a strong academic record. But after he played two months of pickup ball with his new teammates and worked individually with coaches, he and his family grew dissatisfied. So they looked around. Within a couple weeks, the player had resurfaced at another Friends League school.

Few schools are immune to the switching. Penn Charter lost three players a couple years back when Que Gaskins, Allen Iverson’s Reebok attaché, brought his son and two teammates to Friends Central. La Salle lost two top players to Plymouth-Whitemarsh. This year, three Malvern seniors left school in October, with highly regarded Lamon Church heading to Chester High School (in the district where he attended middle school). “I didn’t feel like I was getting a lot of basketball exposure at Malvern,” Church says. “I felt I could get more if I had a chance to play for the state title.”

Students leave independent schools on occasion because they can’t — or don’t want to — handle the workload. It’s not an easy road, and despite greater efforts by the institutions to provide academic support, it doesn’t always work out. When a recruited athlete departs a school because of the academic rigor, it causes resentment among those candidates who weren’t accepted to that school. It also causes friction between the school and families who lost out in the financial-aid derby.

“Sometimes, kids who do well in [grade] school can’t do the work here,” Connor says. “You have to learn what kind of family to encourage to apply.”