It’s summer vacation, that scary time of year in youth sports when the Maine Principals’ Association has little control over the level of contact between coaches and prospective players.

Maybe it’s good for everybody to have a break. Or maybe it would be the optimum time for the people who patrol high school athletics to sit down and have a serious talk about one of the giant problems affecting the balance of power in just about every major team sport: Recruiting.

Saying that it doesn’t happen is like saying you believe the only baseball players who injected themselves between 1986 and 2004 were diabetic. Complete denial. Athletes routinely transfer from School X to School Y every summer, and not merely because School Y has a cooler chemistry lab.

One school and coach recently received an almost laughable slap on the wrist. Laughable, not because of the penalty itself; it probably fit the perceived crime. The funny part is that it looked so random.

Mike D’Andrea, girls’ basketball coach at Deering High School in Portland, will sit out the first two games of next season for permitting two junior high students, including one from a neighboring community, to watch one of his team’s open practices last winter.

Deering reported the violation, which is, of course, the only reason we’re talking about it. Making a spectacle of this one case is the equivalent of spreading a Band-Aid over a malignant mole on your skin.

Unreported recruiting is rampant in Maine high school sports, particularly basketball, where the rich tend to get richer at the expense of less powerful or smaller schools within a 20-mile radius. And with too many games and schools for its executive committee to adjudicate, the MPA can’t properly police it. The principals rely upon honesty to prevail.

Good luck with that.

At least in the winter, coaches may plead ignorance and keep this silent development of their feeder system on the down-low under the guise of having open practices. Making sure parents are invited to keep tabs on their players’ progress is a noble goal. Naturally, these overextended coaches can’t help it if an eighth-grader from East Bumstock finds a seat in the bleachers, too.

Summer is when the really insidious stuff breaks out. Coaches promote “voluntary” practices and “day camps” at which seventh-graders are invited to be “mentored” by the current players. Slipping them a T-shirt and putting you one-up over your next-door rival doesn’t constitute recruiting, does it?

Darn right it does. And somebody wielding more power than I needs to start looking into it.


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