Some rules simply do not make senseIf an athlete in Korea wants to leave his high school and enroll in another high school to compete, or if he wants to quit sports for good, he must get approval from the coach of his current team and from that school’s principal.
It used to be that a high school athlete who wanted to leave his sport had to turn in a written statement saying that he wouldn’t compete in that particular sport again -- anywhere. Many high schools demanded such statements to make sure that students wouldn’t jump to another school. When I asked a high school basketball coach about this rule, he explained that it was intended to develop all schools in a balanced way and to prevent the exodus of good athletes to well-financed athletic programs.
That makes sense, but as for why a written statement was required is beyond me. The only explanation given to me was that it was “customary” to do it. Some schools, it seems, still require it.
In fact, it looks as if that custom is going to cost Korea, and the country benefiting from this nonsense rule is Japan.
Ha Eun-ju, the sister of Ha Seung-jin, the high school sensation who some people think may become the first Korean basketball player to compete in the NBA, is currently in Japan attending Shizuoka College.
Like her brother, Eun-ju is tall at 202 centimeters (6 feet, 8 inches). She once played at Sun-il Middle School in Seoul, but decided to quit when her knee began to bother her. Quit she did, but Eun-ju never quit her love for the game.
According to her father, she signed a statement that she would never play again. Signing the document upset her greatly, says her father.
Not long after Eun-ju called it quits at Sun-il, Oka High School in Japan lured her away. Eun-ju’s father says the Japanese school told his daughter, who still wanted to play basketball, that she did not need to play right away. Oka advised her to rehab her knee and study. The Japan school did ask her to promise to talk to Oka High officials first if she regained her health.
After two years of rehab, she was ready to hit the courts again. Playing in her senior year, she led Oka High to victory in three national tournaments.
Eun-ju is not playing now; she wants to focus on her studies at the two-year college. She will graduate shortly and plans to play for a Japanese amateur team. To do that she must become a naturalized Japanese. This fact has caused Korea’s national women’s team to go on red alert, for they have no intention getting beaten by a team from Japan led by a native-born Korean. Considering the uneasy history between the two countries, Korea looks at this as a matter of saving face. When competing against Japan in any sport, winning is not an option, it’s a must.
How likely is it that Eun-ju might end up in a Japan jersey? Very likely, I’d say. It does not matter what Korean basketball officials offer her in terms of enticements or money. It’s too late. Athletes have long memories when it comes to teams or countries. Eun-ju’s father has also hinted at the unlikelihood of her return. Who can blame her? Eun-ju has every right to seek happiness. Patriotism matters little when you come up against a rule that doesn’t make a bit of sense.
by Brian Lee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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