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High Schoolers Cross State Lines For An Opportunity To Play Football

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In many states, the pandemic has put a pause on high school football, and that has some families making major changes. From Kansas City, Greg Echlin reports.

GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: There are 20 states that are not allowing high school football this fall. There are others, like Kansas, that made a delayed decision to play. That led to a hard choice for student athletes like Dale Stout, a senior who played receiver at Olathe North in suburban Kansas City. To be able to play for sure, he moved more than 200 miles to Waukee, Iowa, just outside Des Moines. Stout left behind his senior year, his friends and the teammates who he played alongside in the state title game last year.

DALE STOUT: I moved up here. Then they were playing football up here and we weren't, so I was like, OK, I'll just play football while I'm up here. I've adjusted pretty well. It's been easy. The team's really friendly. They've welcomed me onto the team really well.

ECHLIN: Stout also rejoined his divorced mom, who has lived in Iowa the last couple years. He doesn't have a football scholarship offer on the table but would like to take a crack at eventually making the team at nearby Iowa State.

STOUT: There was better careers and opportunities up here than there was in Kansas.

ECHLIN: Stout is among high school seniors who've moved across state lines for a last chance to play high school football. That flurry of transfers caught the attention of Karissa Niehoff, who heads the national high school federation based in Indianapolis.

KARISSA NIEHOFF: Certainly, we're watching some of the stories of high-profile athletes that are moving and even some of the athletes that - maybe not be defined as high profile, but they have families; they just want to play.

ECHLIN: Stout's former school recently switched course and is now playing football, even though all classes are being taught online. Stout's former teammate Arland Bruce IV became a high-profile departure, as arguably the best high school running back in the Kansas City area. He's now attending school in Ankeny, Iowa. His mom Linda Bruce explains the move.

LINDA BRUCE: I wanted to give him an opportunity. I knew that it's going to be remote-only in Olathe. Arland doesn't do well with that. I think he needs the interaction with his peers.

ECHLIN: But he ran into a roadblock. The Iowa High School Athletic Association has ruled him ineligible because of a residency dispute. Bruce is already verbally committed to play at the University of Iowa but wants to play football in his senior year of high school. The Bruce family has gone to court to challenge the residency issue.

BRUCE: I just want him to be treated equally. I don't want special treatment for him, but I want him to be treated just like they're treating all the other transfers.

ECHLIN: Earlier this month, Arland Bruce IV stood on the sideline when Ankeny and Waukee played each other in the second game of the year. He watched his Kansas buddy Dale Stout make the game-winning play with only seven seconds left on the clock.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: Holcomb throws the fade, left side. Caught. Touchdown. Touchdown, Dale Stout.

ECHLIN: There are out-of-state transfers scattered throughout the Des Moines area. Karissa Niehoff of the national high school federation hopes more families exercise patience with their state associations.

NIEHOFF: They're doing their very best, working in collaboration with governors' offices, state health agencies, education agencies. And it's fluid right now.

ECHLIN: Still, that uncertainty has led some families to take matters into their own hands and move anyway so that their seniors can play high school football one more season.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAY FOR SOUND'S "THE MOUNTAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.