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Published: Sunday, 4/22/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Whitmer anxious for OHSAA findings of transfer issues

School members to meet with officials on May 23

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The end to the investigation into Whitmer High School's athletic department is in sight.

Representatives of the school are scheduled to meet with Ohio High School Athletic Association officials May 23 in Columbus to learn the findings of an nine-month probe centered on, but not limited to, suspicious transfers into Washington Local Schools district.

Expected to be made public is whether Whitmer's athletic teams -- specifically its successful football team -- used players in recent seasons that should have been ineligible per transfer bylaws.

Washington Local Schools superintendent Patrick Hickey, Whitmer athletic director Tom Snook, and principal Mark Verroco will represent the school at the meeting.

Not expected to attend is former football coach Joe Palka, who quit in December to accept a more lucrative position at Saline High School in Michigan.

Possible penalties for wrongdoing are forfeitures of games, a fine, and the absorbing of OHSAA's legal fees during the investigation.

"We have several issues that we need to meet with Whitmer about and we're looking forward to having that meeting and being able to present the information and having them respond," OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried said.

OHSAA indicated in December the investigation was almost over but that was before it dispatched an investigative team to the area for a second time.

Whitmer has continuously maintained its innocence, noting that faculty members make in-home visits to ensure transfer students are living within the district.

Sparking the investigation, ostensibly, was the high-profile transfer last spring of standout football and basketball player LeRoy Alexander.

Alexander became eligible at the start of the football season by obtaining a preliminary injunction but six other transfer players were rendered to the sidelines for the entire season, a season that ended in a loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius in the Division I state semifinals.

Alexander also played a prominent role on Whitmer's state runner-up basketball team.

"We're excited and happy to be able to finally go down there and hear what they have to say," Hickey said. "Our hope is there has been no wrongdoing. If there has been a minor clerical error, we'll clearly be able to handle that.

"If there's something we don't know about, it would be disconcerting to us that they waited nine months and allowed us to go through an entire football and basketball season."

Twice during its investigation OHSAA informed Whitmer of issues it uncovered, Hickey said, and both times OHSAA admitted later it was mistaken.

Investigators told school administrators that some players should be ruled academically ineligible. That was not true, Hickey said, because investigators miscalculated grades.

In week nine of the football season, with the Panthers on their way to an unbeaten regular season, OHSAA issued the school a 186-page report indicating three players don't live in the district and should be withheld from further competition.

Whitmer's refute of that claim was well taken, and OHSAA reinstated their eligibility in time for a game that Friday.

"Some people are under the impression we've had an extremely successful year, but the damage that's been done to our school district, I think, is irreparable," Hickey said. "Whenever they hear of Whitmer, because of so much publicity in this case, they think we're not an ethical organization, we're not an honest organization. We want this cloud lifted. We want this meeting."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.



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