John Crossman worked as a referee for the first Saturday of Butte’s Little Guy Football League at Copper Mountain Park.
He was all smiles and appeared to really enjoy himself as he worked with a couple of Butte Central teammates, but you would have to believe that the games reminded him of what he was missing.
Crossman is a junior at Butte Central, and he is not allowed to play varsity football for the Maroons. His only crime is that he went to Butte High School last school year.
Because Montana has a 90-day transfer rule, Crossman is not eligible to play in varsity competition in any sport until the spring semester. He will also have to miss the first part of the wrestling season if he goes out for the team.
Sure, Crossman is allowed to play junior varsity football, but, really, that takes a back seat to Little Guy Football in fanfare, as well as pomp and circumstance. While JV games are incredibly important in the development of players and programs, nobody cares about the Monday afternoon games.
At least Class AA junior varsity players get to play on Fridays.
Plus, Butte Central will only play five JV football games this season. Maybe.
Last year, the Maroons canceled their junior varsity schedule because they did not have enough players. While the team’s numbers are better this year, they are only an ankle or two away from doing the same this year.
On the junior varsity team, Crossman will also have to play with players much younger and smaller than he is.
Crossman is listed as 5-foot-11, 235-pound tackle and defensive end on the Butte Central roster. Since the Maroons had to use a 170-pound freshman on the varsity offensive line Friday in Frenchtown, it is safe to say BC could really use him.
Would he be a gamechanger? Maybe not, but that is not the point.
He did not transfer from Butte High to Butte Central to give the Maroons a competitive advantage. He did it for family reasons.
Being part of a blended family, Crossman and his parents want all of the children to go to the same school. In addition, they think the religious aspect of Butte Central will help all the family get through what can a complicated time.
Of course, Crossman should not have to explain his decision to anybody. If he wanted to go play football at BC because he liked the color maroon, that is fine. He should be able to play football.
With the numbers of players playing football dwindling these days, we should welcome any player willing to put on the pads with open arms.
Actually, that goes for pretty much every sport. Numbers of players participating have been down across the board, and as adults we should be encouraging more boys and girls to play sports.
Playing sports — or participating in any extra-curricular activity — is so valuable for students. It helps develop work and study habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Go look at all the athletes next time the paper publishes the honor roll.
So, we should not put up barriers for students to participate. The 90-day transfer rule is just that. It is also an inconsistent and unfair rule.
Had Crossman transferred to, say, Missoula Sentinel, he would be allowed to play varsity from the start. The rule only penalizes student-athletes who transfer schools in the same city.
It is not fair that a player can transfer from a Class C school to a Class AA school 40 miles away and be allowed to play, yet another player has to sit out because he transferred from a public school to a Catholic institution across town.
Butte High has a player who was enrolled at Missoula Big Sky in the spring semester, and he is allowed to start on the Bulldog varsity offensive line — as he should be. Yet, Crossman can only clap for his varsity teammates at his new school.
Also, transfer rules in high school punish a student-athlete much more than they do college players, who have five years to use their four years of eligibility. If a college player has to sit out a season, it is no big deal because he or she can make it up next year.
In high school, that year sitting out is just a year lost, and that is a concept Crossman knows all too well.
During a wrestling camp before his sophomore season, Crossman blew out his knee. He had surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL, so he could only watch sports during his final school year at Butte High.
After enrolling at BC, Crossman applied for a wavier so he could play varsity football this season, and Butte High gladly signed off on it. Butte High coach Arie Grey and Activities Director Chuck Merrifield want to see students compete in sports.
The Montana High School Association, however, denied the waiver. The family is in the process of appealing — or at least trying to appeal — the decision.
It is important to point out that the Montana High School Association did not make the rule. The MHSA, however, is tasked with the difficult job of enforcing the rules put in place by the schools of Montana.
While it would be nice to see MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman step in and overturn the unfair rule, it is not necessarily fair to ask him to do that because that, as they say, would open a whole other can of worms.
It is up to the schools to change the rule that places the fragile egos of some coaches over the well-being of the students.
Beckman said he actually signs off on about 70 percent of the hardship waivers that come across his desk. He said that, under the rule, extraordinary circumstances of hardship must exist for him to sign off.
While Beckman cannot speak to individual cases because of privacy rules, it is clear that Crossman’s case is not that. His family admits as much.
The young man has never been in trouble. He works hard, gets good grades, and he has a loving family.
Crossman also seems to be taking the ruling in stride as he goes to practice every day and works hard to help make the team he cannot play on a better one.
“It is what it is,” he said after officiating the youngsters Saturday. “But I really want to play.”
Two weeks of a season Crossman will never get back have already slipped away. It is time for the schools to change this rule and let young men like Crossman can have as much fun on the gridiron as the kids playing Little Guy Football.
Better yet, Mr. Beckman, just open that can of worms.
— Bill Foley, who never understood why opening a can of worms was a bad thing, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks every Thursday. 1 comment