Win at All Costs

By Glenn Cook

Alexis Hornbuckle is the best girls' basketball player in West Virginia. Good enough to be a two-time Parade Magazine All-American, a second team All-USA Today athlete, and two-time state player of the year. Good enough to lead her first high school to consecutive state championships and her second high school -- a team that had won only four games in four years -- to the title in her junior season.

"As a dad and as a coach," Hornbuckle's father, Jerome, says, "I think you'd need to show me another high school player who can do that before you say she's not the best out there. I don't think another kid has transferred to a subpar program and taken it to the top like she has, as quickly as she did."

And there's the rub, at least as far as the Kanawha County Board of Education is concerned.

The board started a review of its open-door transfer policy after Hornbuckle and three teammates left Charleston's Capital High, a magnet performing arts school, to attend South Charleston High in the fall of 2002. The result, enacted amid controversy in May, was even stricter than is recommended by the state high school athletic association: a one-year ban from competition for athletes who transfer within the district.

Derided as a knee-jerk reaction by parents and coaches, the hard-line ban is one of several attempts by school districts across the country to curtail free agency among top athletes. In the school choice and open enrollment era, the need for such a ban also points to the troubling swirl of events that have enveloped high school athletics over the past decade. 

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