Phil Anastasia: School-choice program has quick impact

Audubon has benefited already from a transfer.

Posted: September 18, 2011

It took one game for the new school-choice program to make an impact on Colonial Conference football.

One game.

What happens in a month? A season? A couple of years of "recruiting" - oops, I meant to say "attracting" - student-athletes to schools outside their home district?

The summer buzz in the Colonial Conference was about Sterling, since the Silver Knights had "attracted" several student-athletes from other districts through its school-choice option, which is linked to its Junior Naval ROTC program.

But Sterling wasn't playing Thursday night.

That's when Audubon beat Lindenwold, 10-0, thanks in large part to a sensational debut by sophomore Khaleil Chisolm.

To be sure, there were many reasons the Green Wave won their first game under coach Dom Koehl. Senior Keith Michalski was a huge factor on both sides of the football. Junior Adin Borden came up with two of the team's four interceptions as part of a strong defensive effort.

But there was no minimizing Chisolm's impact. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound athlete ran for 154 yards on 19 carries. He also had an interception and made several tackles on defense.

With Chisolm's speed and elusiveness complementing Michalski's strength and power, Audubon will be a tough team to defend in the Colonial Patriot and could factor in the South Jersey Group 1 tournament. That's great for the Green Wave, and great for Koehl.

It also underscores how much the school-choice program can affect competition.

If one player can make that much of an impact, what happens when three or five - or 10, after a couple of years - start lining up for a new team in a new district? Will more schools become "choice schools" and seek to attract student athletes to remain competitive in this new environment?

Will the very notion of a level playing field, of public schools featuring teams filled with athletes who live in that district, go out the window?

Under the program, instituted this year by the New Jersey Department of Education, students may choose to enroll in a public school outside their district. The students still attend their new school for free; sending districts must cover the cost for the receiving district.

Several South Jersey high schools have joined the choice program as receiving schools. They include Audubon and Sterling, along with Paulsboro, Lindenwold and Gateway - that's five Colonial schools right there - as well as Hammonton, Ocean City, and Glassboro, among others.

Let's be clear: I'm not suggesting that Audubon did anything wrong in welcoming Chisolm to its school district. And I am not suggesting that Chisolm and his family decided he would attend Audubon so he could run for touchdowns for the Green Wave.

But that's apparently going to be a pretty regular by-product of the decision. Chisolm has burst, vision, and a willingness to lower his shoulder and power inside for extra yards.

"The sky's the limit for him," Koehl said of Chisolm, a Lindenwold resident who is attending Audubon under the school-choice program after spending his freshman year at Camden Catholic.

NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko couldn't have acted less concerned when asked about the school-choice program Wednesday. He believes the organization's transfer rules will cover these situations.

He's wrong. School choice so far has involved freshmen and sophomores who didn't letter in varsity sports at the sending school, so there's no mechanism for a 30-day sit-out period. Plus, the very nature of the program calls for students to seek a "better" situation, which mitigates the ability to prove a transfer was made for "athletic advantage."

And since most of these moves have involved younger students, the full impact on varsity competition probably won't be felt for another year or two. And at that point, you can't realistically expect students to "go back" to their old schools.

The question isn't whether school choice is going to impact varsity competition. The question is the depth and breadth of the impact, and how school officials and the NJSIAA decide to react.

This could get really messy, really fast.

I thought it might take a season or two for school choice to be a factor.

In Colonial Conference football, it took one game.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com,

or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.

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