Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Smithers wrestler's transfer appeal failed to meet BC School Sports requirements

Appeal denied because student-athlete is billeted and is not living with parent or guardian
High school wrestler Fiona Sullivan
Smithers high school wrestler Fiona Sullivan transferred from her home school in Hazelton to compete on the Smithers Secondary School team but she's been ruled ineligible for the year because her transfer did not meet BC School Sports residency requirements.

When it denied a request from Hazelton wrestler Fiona Sullivan to allow her to compete in high school sports this year after she transferred from her hometown, BC School Sports was following rules based on policies established by its 450 member schools, either public or independent secondary schools.

Despite an appeal filed on the 16-year-old Sullivan’s behalf, BCSS determined she is not eligible to compete in any school sports for an entire school year for Smithers Secondary School, which she now attends, despite the fact she lives there while participating in the high-performance training program as student at the Smithers Sports School.

The BCSS policy on transfers takes effect once students attend their first day of Grade 9 classes and they become tied to that school. If there is any movement from school to school after that, the student is subject to transfer rules which make in most cases them ineligible for a period of 12 months to play any sport they played in the previous 12 months leading up to the date of transfer.

“Basically, if they go to another school and want to try a new sport out (that the student did not play in the previous year), that’s totally fine, (the restriction is) just on those sports they’ve played,” said B.C. School Sports executive director Jordan Abney. “That’s a pretty common basic starting point for schools across North America. It’s there as a deterrent for athletically-motivated transfers.”

An appeal to BCSS was filed on Sullivan’s behalf by her school in Smithers based on academic grounds because some of the courses she wanted were not offered in Hazelton, but the appeal did not meet requirements. A transfer to a new school would be approved if the new school offered at least three academic courses in a related program not available in the previous school. The courses cannot be sport or human-performance related, commonly offered by sports schools.

Sullivan would likely have been allowed to compete for her Smithers school had her parents moved there with her. But for economic reasons they could not afford to move from Hazelton, one hour away, despite wanting to do that to support their daughter. She now lives in a billet home.

The BCSS handbook outlines the policies which spell out the reasons for exemptions for the 12-month ineligibility rule.

“Some of them would include a parent-to-parent move, change of principle residence, a bona fide academic transfer and financial hardship, those are the four most common ones,” said Abney.

A parent or guardian who moves to another school’s catchment area within the previous 12 months must provide in a transfer request a legitimate reason for the move other than to allow a student to participate in a sports program. Exemptions are also granted if students move their primary residence to that of another parent with whom they have not been living.

“Students have to live with their parent or guardian or at least have an established address for 12 consistent months because often we see (a student) who moves in with his aunt so he can go to this school,” said Abney. “It happens all the time and often it is athletically-motivated.

“In this case (Sullivan) has moved from the family home in with a billet family, and for that alone she’s not eligible for 12 months because that’s very much a transfer that’s motivated by a personal choice.”

The year of ineligibility also apples to students who transfer from a school that does not offer a particular sport to a school that has that sport.

Student-athletes whose Fall 2020 or Winter 2021 seasons were cancelled due to the pandemic and who transferred schools on or after Oct. 1, 2020 are also ineligible for the 2021-22 school year. That’s because it is the student’s participation in the last unaffected season of play which determines the sports they are considered to have participated in.

Some schools which don’t have enough student-athletes have combined to form teams, which is permitted by BCSS.

In an average year, Abney says BCSS will deal with about 1,200 transfers annually but this year the numbers are closer to 2,000. Most of them are routine notifications of transfer and are rubber-stamped. But they all must be screened by an eligibility officer, two retired administrators who work on contract for BCSS, who review each application to determine if it meets the requirements on transfer policy as outlined in the handbook.

Sullivan’s Bulkley Valley school district believes there should be exceptions made for transferring students from rural areas of the province who often have less access to athletic and academic school programs.

“We understand the need for this bylaw in urban centres to keep the sports system fair, however it does not take into consideration the inequity of sport opportunities in the north,” said Matthew Monkman, School District 54 assistant superintendent Matthew Monkman. “There is no competitive edge to gain in Fiona’s transfer. The programs she needs access to aren’t available in her home community.”

Schools can appeal the decisions of an eligibility officer and Abney said an appeal was filed in Sullivan’s case which was discussed by an eligibility committee, a group of seven principals and school athletic directors from around the province. The appeals committee meets roughly 10 times per year and it does have the ability to make an exception to policy if it determines the situation falls under compassionate or extraordinary circumstances. No BCSS staff are involved in the adjudication process.

“In this case they felt that granting an exception to the rules was not warranted, and so that’s the end of our eligibility process,” said Abney. “There’s policies the school put in place and the expectations for us as staff is to administer and apply them as consistently as we can within that structure.

“We want kids to play school sport, we’ve got over 70,000 kids that play school sport every year and we’re very proud of that, and the biggest challenge we have when creating policy is to prevent abuse of those rules and protect the integrity of school sport as a whole.

“But that also comes at the expense of, in certain cases, preventing kids from playing. Tying to find that perfect balance is really tricky and there’s always room for discussion in terms of is that policy in the right place.”