LaQuawn Perry of Columbus Africentric drives on Continental players in the Div. IV state semifinals.
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It didn't take long for Columbus Africentric Secondary to win a state basketball championship, capturing the Division IV boys title three weeks ago in just its second year with a high school enrollment.
Now it is likely that the Nubians won't hold that distinction very long.
Last week it was revealed that one of Africentric's starters and key players - 6-3 senior guard LaQuawn Perry - may have been the victim of a costly clerical error, one that technically made him ineligible to participate during the 2004-05 basketball season and state tournament, and will probably result in the forfeiture of the championship.
Bob Goldring, director of information for the Ohio High School Athletic Association, confirmed that the proper paperwork on Perry's intra-district transfer from Columbus Brookhaven last April 21 never reached the OHSAA.
"My thought is that there's nothing they could do at this point to make [Perry] eligible," Goldring said.
Africentric's varsity roster was composed largely of transfer students from around the Columbus metropolitan area. In its second year of competition, the school had eight seniors and three juniors on its 14-player varsity roster for the state tournament.
The Nubians, ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll, closed the season at 27-1 by beating Continental 61-45 in the state semifinals March 17 and Cleveland Heights Lutheran East 74-66 in the championship game on March 19. Perry led Africentric with 14 points against Continental, and scored 17 in the title game.
A member of Brookhaven's Division I state runner-up team of 2003, Perry was presumably to become immediately eligible to play at Africentric this season because of a superintendent's waiver. Without such waiver, OHSAA transfer bylaws require athletes to either relocate to another defined school district - even in an open-enrollment public school system - or sit out one full calendar year before becoming eligible for participation in sports.
According to Marvenia Bosley, the deputy superintendent of Columbus Public Schools, the responsibility for Perry's intra-district transfer paperwork being processed ultimately fell on former Africentric athletic director Larry Marshall, who accepted a position at Columbus Mifflin in January.
Bosley acknowledged that the paperwork in question could not be located and thus he did not complete the requested transfer. According to Goldring, athletes seeking intra-district transfers do not gain eligibility until the OHSAA confirms receipt of the related forms.
Goldring, who said that an investigation by Columbus Public Schools is expected to be completed by Friday, confirmed that Africentric would have the option of an appeal. Dan Ross, commissioner of the OHSAA, has been in contact with CPS director of student activities Mike Rotonda on the matter.
Rotonda oversees the athletic directors for CPS.
If Africentric is forced to forfeit its title and relinquish its trophy, Lutheran East would be declared state champion and the runner-up spot would be vacated, according to Goldring.
Only one school in the history of OHSAA-sanctioned state tournaments has ever forfeited a championship. The St. John's Jesuit hockey team relinquished its 1999 title a few days after beating Bowling Green 7-0 in the state final.
That occurred when an anonymous report was made to school athletic director Ed Heintschel indicating that the Titans had used an ineligible player during the state tournament run, a little-used, fourth-line freshman forward who had broken OHSAA bylaws by competing in a youth hockey tournament with an amateur travel-league team during the Christmas break.
Heintschel investigated the alleged violation internally, found the accusation to be true, and reported his findings to the OHSAA, which declared the forfeit.
News of the potential forfeiture hit home in Putnam County with Continental coach Kevin Homier, whose 22-4 Pirates were beaten by the Nubians in the state semifinals.
"I've got mixed feelings," Homier said. "If it's true what happened, I think it's a shame that our kids were denied their opportunity to play for a championship. You wouldn't want anybody to hand you a state championship but, if Africentric did break the rules, they should have to pay the price."
Regardless of the outcome of an investigation on the Africentric ineligibility question, Homier believes there is a larger issue involved.
"In the whole scheme of things, I think we're missing the point about high school sports," he said. "A state championship should be about 10 guys who went to grade school together, who had common goals and sacrificed together, and who enjoyed the quest of a championship together. Winning it with your guys, your friends."
"This thing with bringing kids in someplace for the last one or two years with a state championship in mind isn't the way it's supposed to be done."
More so than expressing thoughts that may sound like sour grapes, Homier wishes his Pirates had simply played up to their potential in the state semifinals.
"I hate making excuses," he said. "We had an opportunity to win. We had the game within five points in the fourth quarter. We had a chance, and we didn't take advantage of it."
Homier acknowledged that the impact of transfers, especially multiple transfers to the same school, can be much more profound in swaying the competitive balance at the Division III and IV levels, which have traditionally been composed of schools from smaller communities bound by district limits.
The Continental coach said he sees less of a problem with the Africentric situation than with the D-III state champion Cincinnati North College Hill because Africentric was at least stocked with players who are from the Columbus area.
"That [North College Hill] is a team of AAU buddies deciding where they want to go play basketball together," Homier said. "That's not what high school basketball is all about. It's about finding a way to do it with what you've got."
North College Hill features three of the nation's most highly regarded sophomore players, each of whom came to the Cincinnati school from outside Ohio.
O.J. Mayo, a superbly talented 6-6 guard and this year's Mr. Basketball in Ohio, moved to NCH from Kentucky to start his freshman year in 2003-04. Bill Walker, an explosive 6-6 leaper whose talent rivals Mayo's, came to NCH as a freshman from West Virginia. Keenan Ellis, an imposing 6-11 post player, transferred to NCH from his Indianapolis high school this season in mid-January. The trio had played together on a summer AAU team.
"All of my kids live within about a mile and a half of each other," Homier said. "They've gone to school together since kindergarten. As a coach, I'd rather lose with guys who have been together than win with guys who were just brought together for one or two years.
"Somebody's got to do something. I don't know what that is, but hopefully somebody smarter than me can figure it out."
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