Fifteen-year-old Daniel Venditti hasn’t played football in months, and unless something changes overnight in OFSAA regulations, he won’t be playing again in the near future — and not by his own choice.
This year, due to provincial sports legislations, he’s found himself banned from his favourite pastime — a sport he's played since he was eight-years-old.
How does a 15-year-old find himself in this situation?
Was he juicing? Did he take a knee during the National Anthem? Nope.
He’s just a normal 15-year-old boy who decided to switch high schools.
Venditti transferred from St. Paul Catholic High School to A.N. Myer Secondary School this year for academic reasons, and according to regulations by the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA), a student who transfers schools isn’t allowed to play the same sports they played at the previous school for a period of 12 months.
Of course, this isn’t new. These regulations have been firmly in place since 1986, says Doug Gellatly, executive director of OFSAA.
He says similar transfer policies are common practise in high school athletics, put in place to prevent teams being stacked and to help ensure fair competition for all school teams.
Over the years the policy has changed and evolved, says Gallatly. Currently, there are a number of ways students can appeal to continue playing a sport if they've transferred for a legitimate reason, like a change of address.
The rules are less clear when it comes to transferring for academic reasons.
The current OFSAA appeal form says if a student transfers prior to grade 10, they’re eligible to appeal for “exceptional personal, social or academic reasons.”
Since Venditti transferred to take courses that weren’t available at St. Paul, like construction, he believes he should fall under the category of “exceptional personal, social or academic reasons.”
However, on the appeal form (in the section for this specific appeal) it says the form must be accompanied by documentation from the sending school’s administration and/or independent sources to confirm the exceptional reasons.
This is where Venditti and his mother believe the regulations are harming the wrong people and allowing students like Venditti to fall through the cracks.
In Venditti's case, St. Paul's administration said they were unable to provide the document he needs.
Venditti and his mother say they've made multiple requests to the principal of St. Paul, asking for a letter to support their appeal.
Venditti says in some cases his calls weren't returned at all.
He says he contacted other staff members at St. Paul too, who were informed they can't write the letter either, unless they do it separate from the school.
When contacted by a reporter, St. Paul’s principal declined to comment about the school’s policy regarding student requests for appeal support. He did say the school's administration would comply with any OFSAA regulations or requests, “by the letter.”
Unfortunately for Venditti, it would be an OFSAA committe overseeing the appeal, and Gallatly says OFSAA wouldn't ask a school to write a letter or attempt to influence their decision at all. It would be a conflict of interest.
Venditti says he tried calling the Catholic School Board over the issue, but says the superintendent was away for an exteneded period of time and that he was eventually directed back to St. Paul.
He notes that before he was in high school St. Paul coaches were already recruiting him to play for their team.
After none of Venditti’s effort turned up anything, he now believes students like him are the ones being penalized for the actions of coaches and parents who try to stack the teams.
His mother Rita believes the same.
“OFSAA has been created, from our understanding, because there are schools trying to stack their teams … in the end, what is the penalty to them, who are already adults in their careers, and what’s the cost to a child, when these are the crucial years of development.”
“Switching had absolutely nothing to do with the teams,” says Rita.
As for Venditti, he’s out of luck. The football season ends soon, but he hopes to see changes to provincial sports regulations in the future so other high school students don’t go through the same thing.
“We’re not an NFL team … when you’re 15 years down the road you’re going to look back and if you were playing on the team you’re going to say ‘oh well, we had a good team that year, we did this, we did that,’ — but you’re skipping that … You can’t go back and play that year of grade 10 football,” said Venditti.
Not only is he disappointed he can't play, he fears his skills will decline if he isn’t playing regularly.
“This is the reason I’ve never taken a year off. I’m always scared I’m going to lose some type of skill throughout the year. Because practice makes perfect, right? If you stop that, it’s noticeable.”
“When you go to a football camp or you play an extra season it’s noticeable that you’re better than you usually are.”
When Venditti goes out to watch the games is the hardest part for him, says Rita.
“They do let him go and watch and participate somehow … The school (Myer) I think feels for him and wants to keep him involved so he doesn’t lose all his passion for the sport.”
“They try to keep him engaged through little things like that. But when you’re at a game and used to being there as one of the key players, that’s when I get the call: ‘mom, is there really nothing we can do?’”
“Our ultimate goal was to get him there, and that’s what we got, but the downside was that he had to give up a sport that he’s enjoyed playing for over seven years … all because of a rule that was put in place because teachers, coaches, schools are trying to stack their teams.”
“These are 14, 15-year-old boys. You’re going to suspend them for a year for choosing their education?”
On OFSAA’s website they publish research studies (one of which was on the top of the page during the time of writing this) which claims student-athletes benefit socially and educationally from athletic participation: ofsaa.on.ca/resources/research-studies. Further, their mission-statement is “to enrich education and foster personal development through school sport.”
Venditti doesn’t seem to have that opportunity.
Edit: Originally this story said it was the DSBN which Venditti tried to contact, but it was the Catholic School Board.