He was a top guard in junior high school, and the D.C. Interhigh League coaches were excited at the prospect of having him on their basketball teams. He played well his sophomore year at one school but decided he could get better exposure at another, so he transferred. At the end of his junior year, he transferred again, this time to another school he felt certain would bring him the headlines and attention he desired.

"I don't remember why he transferred," said his Interhigh basketball coach in his sophomore season. "Maybe because we stress academics and discipline here. He -- like a lot of other young kids -- know they can go elsewhere and play ball without the hassle. Kids definitely abuse our loose transfer rules."

The problem is wider than that. In 1981, Willie Stewart, then the football coach at Eastern, was reassigned to Anacostia to teach business. That summer, eight of his players at Eastern transferred to Anacostia for their senior year. Stewart was charged with illegal recruiting and received a letter of reprimand. But the students remained and the Indians tied H.D. Woodson for the East Division title.

"I'd be the first to admit I took advantage of the rule," Stewart said. "But I'd never do it again. The kids really caught hell."

Stewart said the students were allowed to transfer because they wanted a class that was not offered at Eastern but was at Anacostia. All of the students enrolled in two elective courses -- power mechanics and electronics. But one went so far as to say that the only reason he transferred was to play for Stewart, and the coach himself said, "I know it (the classes) was a crapshoot, but I was selfish."

Transfers involving highly talented high school athletes often are looked upon with suspicion -- here and elsewhere. But the problem is particularly acute in the District of Columbia.

Because of the proximity of the 11 District high schools and the relative ease with which transfers are granted, many athletes simply pick the prevailing powerhouse and transfer there. After years of this, many coaches now are worrying that the Have Ability, Will Travel syndrome is disrupting the neighborhood-school concept.

Otto Jordan, athletic director of the Interhigh League, is not happy with the ease with which athletes can change schools. "I made recommendations (to the D.C. Board of Education) 12 years ago that students who transfer would lose a year of eligibility, and they almost laughed me out of the place," he said yesterday.

"Students are transferring without the athletic director being able to do anything about it. Everything they do is done within the rules of the Board of Education."

Jordan continued, "There are four or five ways students in the D.C. schools can transfer. They are called 'discretionary transfers,' and this policy, which is administered by principals and the region superintendent, enables the athletes to move from one school to another."

Jordan also said that revised recommendations regarding transfers are before the board once again, but have drawn no action in more than a year.

Students wishing to transfer in the D.C. schools apply to the region (there are four) that governs the school they wish to attend. If the reasons -- anything from wanting a certain course to personal problems at the old school to changing residences or guardianships -- are deemed valid, the office grants the transfer. Most often, the request to transfer is granted.

"The region office did check to see if those eight students were enrolled, and they were," Stewart said. "The end result was that all of the kids went to college. That's what I was mostly concerned about."

Transfers aren't always so questionable.

"Sometimes a kid does fit in better at another school," said Coolidge basketball Coach Frank Williams. "One good rule the (D.C.) system has is that ninth graders can select the high school of his or her choice. But sometimes he doesn't like the school, the athletic program or the coach and wants to leave.

"Sometimes a transfer is in a kid's best interest. If I feel that way, I'll encourage him to leave. If a kid lives across the street from Coolidge and wants to go across town to a Woodson, and he goes to class and graduates, then fine."

In neighboring Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Northern Virginia and in the private schools, transfers aren't as common. According to Chuck Brown, athletic director in Prince George's County, only two requests for transfers have come across his desk in the past two years; both were granted.

"One athlete actually changed residences, and it was clearly documented," Brown said. "The other kid didn't play that much and wasn't on the team for the last month or so. We don't get that many requests for transfers, and both of those were legitimate, as far as I'm concerned. The transfer office here is very stringent on transfers. We don't have that many."

The Virginia High School League rule book specifies that students must attend (and participate at) the school in their residential district. Students can transfer and be eligible for sports immediately if they change legal residences.

In Montgomery County and in the Metro Conference, which includes Catholic schools in the District, Maryland and Virginia, very few athletes transfer, because they lose a year of eligibility. No specific figures were available because transfer records are not broken down by athletic participation.

"Any student who transfers to a school in the Metro Conference from any school in the metropolitan area automatically loses a year of eligibility," said Dallas Shirley, the commissioner of the conference. "That includes private or public."

Bill Kyle, boys athletic director in Montgomery County, said, "In special cases, there are waivers, but it must be spelled out very clearly. We used to get maybe 60 to 100 transfer applications a year, but since the rule was instated, the figure has dropped considerably.

"All of the schools offer approximately the same curriculum, so students can't use course offerings as an excuse. And all the schools offer sound sports programs, so there is no reason to jump to another school.

"Of the few kids who have transferred, very few have much of an impact on a program. The most celebrated case was Charlie Thomas, who went from Sherwood to Seneca Valley. But his father actually moved into an apartment in the Seneca Valley area, so that transfer had to be granted."

Because of the new required 2.0 grade point average to be eligible for athletic participation in Prince George's County, coaches are concerned some left ineligible might try to use a false address and play in the District.

Jordan said no such cases have come across his desk.

"You know a few kids are going to try to come across the line and play in D.C. They know it's pretty easy to transfer," said one Interhigh football coach. "If any come here, his papers better be in order. I won't be forfeiting any games because of a kid who just transferred in to play for a year."

In the past, many coaches in the Interhigh League have said they would favor a rule that any student who transfers from one District school must sit out a calendar year.

"It would discourage the recruiting of kids," Williams said. "That rule would have a positive impact on our league. It would help in terms of discipline. Losing a year in high school would change a lot of attitudes in a hurry."