Jack Walker Published

Justice Calls On Lawmakers To Rescind School Sports Transfer ‘Mistake’

An American football and a helmet on a grass field
Gov. Jim Justice called for the reversal of a 2023 law that allows students to immediately transfer high school sports teams without a waiting period.

In 2023, state lawmakers passed a bill that, in part, allowed for high school students to immediately transfer high school sports teams, regardless of whether they changed addresses.

In his Wednesday briefing, Gov. Jim Justice called on state lawmakers to that law, calling the bill’s initial passage a “real, real mistake.”

Previously, state policies for high school sports required students to physically move to join a new school’s sports team, or wait a year after transferring to become eligible to compete.

Passage of the bill was contentious. It followed failed attempts from Sen Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, to push such a bill into law both in 2022 and earlier in 2023.

The bill was ultimately passed when it was coupled with sports transfer policies for recipients of the state’s Hope Scholarship.

But critics of the law, including Justice, have said it created an imbalance in high school sports, as students from schools with fewer resources are transferring to larger, more competitive schools in record numbers.

In November, Mountain State Spotlight found that the number of football games won by at least 70 points hit a record-high 13 in fall 2023 — compared to zero in 2022, and just four in 2021.

They also found that 432 students transferred high schools for sports in the fall, which tripled the number of transfers from the previous year-and-a-half.

In 2023, Justice allowed the bill to become law without signing it himself, voicing support for its Hope Scholarship transfer policy but concern over the broader sports transfer rule.

Now, however, Justice has become more vocal in his calls for lawmakers to change course.

During a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Justice asked legislators to pass a bill reversing the controversial policy before the end of this year’s legislative session.

“If you play on a team and your team loses that game 95 to three in football, how do you feel tomorrow to get up and to go to school? Really and truly, that’s what we’re talking about,” Justice said. “We’re talking about embarrassing kids.”

Justice said if it remains in effect, the law could discourage youth from underprivileged backgrounds to pursue sports.

“We’re talking about kids that then decide, ‘I’m not going to have anything to do with this, even though I’m a pretty good athlete, and I’m a pretty good football player or basketball player,” he said.

The deadline is Feb. 28 for the West Virginia Senate or the House of Delegates to pass any bills that might make the change the governor is asking for. After that the chambers will turn to reviewing bills passed by the other chamber.