KAIAC Age Limit Rule Stirs Controversy: Mr. Vandermeer Responds

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Jack Kim, a junior in this photo, stands before a soccer ball on the field. Jack was unable to join the team this year because he was overage.

Two years ago, the Korea-American Interscholastic Activities Conference (KAIAC) established a rule that students over 18 cannot participate in high school athletics for safety reasons. However, some students have voiced concerns that the rule is unfair, claiming that overage students should still be able to play with their classmates.

“I don’t understand why we should take such an opportunity away because of a single year,” senior Trey Noh expressed.

This year, seniors Paul Lee, Brian Lee, and Jack Kim were unable to participate in volleyball and soccer because they are nineteen years old. Paul agreed with Trey, explaining, “I can’t see why the rule is there; just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re a better athlete.” He added, “I was disappointed that I couldn’t play my favorite sport.”

Next year, Tor Utoksiri and E-Joon Ko will be unable to play as well. Speaking on behalf of the basketball team, Trey said:

“I understand why KAIAC established the rule [for safety reasons]. But I believe there should be exceptions.”

A prime example, he believes, is Tor, who has played with Trey for two years. Trey explained, “He’s a pretty quiet guy. Basketball was his only way of expressing himself and making new friends. He even won three awards this year. And for me, seeing someone be able to express themselves through sports was beautiful.”

Although he is graduating this year, Trey hopes his lowerclassmen will “keep playing and loving sports,” including Tor. “All our teammates wish he could play next year.”

Tor himself, however, feels more accepting of the situation. “I wasn’t disappointed because I knew we had to follow the rules.”

Despite special cases like Tor, however, Mr. Vandermeer, the athletic director, believes rules are rules and are established for a reason. “The principle [behind the age limit] is to protect kids that are of the eligible age. Safety is the top priority. When we have 17 schools in KAIAC, we have to have common agreements that we hold fast to.”

He understands that exceptions are tempting. “It’s a real challenge to open up a window—how do you decide who gets allowances and who doesn’t? It’s really unfortunate for Tor, Paul, Brian, and Jack. But unless you have a strong policy, you start getting controversies.”

To clarify his point, he talked about a meeting last year for all the athletic directors. “A director from another school asked, ‘Look. I have two kids who were born three days too early. They’re small kids. Can we make an exception for them?’ But everyone in the room voted against it.”

The reason was that the directors felt the exceptions would never end. “It seems unfair, but if you make an exception once, where does it stop? And then pretty soon, you might have a kid that’s 100 kilos that’s 19 competing against a ninth grader that’s 40 kilos. And you shouldn’t have this overage big kid competing against a younger, smaller kid.” He repeated, “We make these rules to keep the kids safe.”

Regardless, Trey thinks that some leniency should be allowed. “I think the rule should apply to American schools where students are really good. But none of us are going pro, so I don’t understand why it matters.”

Furthermore, while GSIS is stringent about this rule and the need for safety, it seems that other schools are less strict. Trey claimed to know several students from other schools who break the rule. “They don’t individually check every student,” he said.

When asked whether he knows anyone who breaks the rule, Paul said he had nothing to comment.

Mr. Vandermeer said, “If our coaches and kids are saying that they know somebody that’s overage, we’d ask them to check the birthdates of all of their kids because the school may have done it inadvertently.”

Regardless, the school would “have to have some pretty compelling, powerful evidence that a school is using overage players.”

Regardless of the policies of other schools, it’s clear that the age restrictions have aroused significant controversy among student athletes. With the arrival of a new student class and athletic director next year, it’s interesting to consider how the policies and opinions may change in the future.