Foreign Exchange Policy Excludes Athletes

Emily Roberts

Sophomore Thi Hoang was shocked and disappointed when she found out she was no longer eligible to compete after already playing tennis her freshman year: “This year I went to Round-Up to sign up for tennis, and the athletic department said I could practice, but not compete,” said Hoang, “if I would have known this, I wouldn’t have played my freshman year.”

Whether or not the foreign exchange student is a part of an approved foreign exchange program (has a sponsoring agency) is the deciding factor on how long each student is eligible to participate/play. If the student is a part of an approved program, he/she is allowed to compete, on any level, for one year.

After one year, students from an approved program can only practice with the team, but not compete. “The problem with this rule is that because I play tennis, there are a lot of matches and not that many practices,” said Hoang. BSM Athletic Director Mr. Jerry Pettinger acknowledged the Minnesota State High School League ruling, and in support of this, he said, “I would love to see these kids able to play varsity for one year but all other levels beyond one year.”

As many are not familiar with this rule, surprisingly, Minnesota is not the only state: “most states have some sort of rule in regard to this,” said MSHSL Associate Director Kevin Merkle.

In some cases, foreign exchange students can be a few years older than the other kids in their same grade level. This is considered to be another advantage they would have over the average American student.

As there is a limitation on how many years foreign exchange students are eligible to compete in sports, they still receive the same honors that their American counterparts may earn. “[Foreign exchange students] can hold school, conference, or state records.

They can also receive All-Conference or All-State honors,” said Mr. Pettinger.

Part of the reason this rule was enacted over 25 years ago was because of a controversial situation that developed in the past. Although Mr. Merkle would not elaborate on the details of this specific situation, many matters were brought up.

“There is a lot of concern when foreign exchange students take playing time or roster spots from kids who have lived in the community and/or attended that school for a long time,” said Mr. Merkle.

There is a legitimate reason behind the rule. It has to be enforced; otherwise, it would be questionable whether or not these athletes are coming just to be recruited. Recruiting by individuals or organizations is not aloud.

Mr. Merkle stated that with no rule, the best student athletes from around the world could show up on a Minnesota high school team, giving that school an advantage other schools do not have.

There is a difference between International Students and Foreign Exchange students; therefore, both have separate rules regarding their eligibility. “[International Students] are not eligible at all at the varsity level,” said Mr. Merkle, “They get one year at the B-Squad, or JV level.”

Special situations do exist. Junior Hugh Lee was a foreign exchange student last year.

If it were not for him becoming an American immigrant this year, his eligibility would be challenged. Because he is an immigrant, he no longer has a set precedent stating a specific amount of time for how long he is able to participate in the athletic program at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

Lee is fortunate for this because he enjoys participating on various teams and is constantly improving. He is on both the soccer and tennis team, and is looking forward to the upcoming tennis season.

“Last year, I wanted to play because I thought it would be really fun. I was not that good; then last summer, I went home to Korea and practiced tennis, and now I’m a lot better,” Lee said.

Sports allow students to connect with each other outside a classroom setting. “I’ve found how different it is to come here and have a real coach and teammates,” Lee said.

Due to this limitation, some foreign exchange students may feel as though they are missing out on the social part of school in America. As for Hoang, she is going to continue to try new sports at BSM, even though it won’t be the same watching from the sidelines.