The IHSAA had removed the boys basketball team from the Sectional tournament at the end of the year after being accused of violating IHSAA recruiting rules, regarding a student who was brought over from the Democratic Republic of Congo under a student visa. Perry Township held a press conference in the Cardinal’s Nest yesterday concerning the situation.
Boys basketball coach Eric Brand’s voice quivered as he described the emotions of his players when they learned of the IHSAA ruling in a team meeting last week.
“Shock. Confusion,” Brand said in a press conference yesterday morning. “They understand why I did what I did.”
Keesha Hughes, spokesperson for Perry Township, asked reporters to refer to the student in question as N.P.L. for privacy reasons. Throughout the press conference, both Brand and assistant superintendent Robert Bohannon, who works within the area of student immigrants in the district, gave their side of the situation and explained their appeal to the IHSAA.
When Brand learned of N.P.L., he says he knew the young man was in a bad situation. According to Perry Township’s appeal, this past February, N.P.L.’s former guardian, Ray Truitt, planned to bring over two teenagers from the Congo, not including N.P.L, and have them stay with orchestra teacher Thomas Wright. When Wright turned down the offer, Truitt looked to Bohannon. He informed Truitt of the measures he would have to take to enroll the two students at SHS, which included getting a student visa and paying a tuition fee. Truitt was not willing to meet these requirements, so he moved on.
Eventually, Truitt tried this process again but this time with N.P.L. Since he had failed to enroll others at SHS earlier this year, Truitt started elsewhere this time. He eventually obtained N.P.L. the visa through Rock Creek Community Academy in Clark County. He attempted to transfer N.P.L. to SHS but continued not to pay the tuition fee. Truitt still searched for schools where he could enroll him, leaving N.P.L without a stable education or home environment. Soon, N.P.L. became afraid of Truitt.
“N.P.L.’s teachers began to notice; they could tell that he was not his normal self,” the appeal said. “His body language was different and he was timid around Truitt. In short, he ‘seemed like a worn down and confused young man.’”
Brand says this was the reason he took action.
“This was all about me trying to protect a young man, give him a stable environment and give him an opportunity,” Brand said.
Perry Township’s appeal to the IHSAA goes on to say the decision to remove SHS from the tournament is unfair and illogical, and the punishment should be waived. IHSAA “rule 20-1 prohibits the recruitment or attempted recruitment of a prospective student through the use of undue influence,” the appeal says. The IHSAA saw this as recruitment, but Perry Township disagrees.
In the appeal, they argue that N.P.L. was not considered a prospective student because he was already enrolled at SHS when Brand made the tuition payment raised by his nonprofit organization. Due to the way a student visa works, N.P.L. was ineligible to play varsity sports once Brand signed the check of $5,548 to pay for his tuition. However, Brand says he does not see the reasoning behind the punishment issued by the IHSAA.
“I still don’t understand why we’re being punished,” Brand said. “Especially the rest of my young men who didn’t know about this and didn’t have anything to do with it.”
According to Brand, he was transparent with others through the whole process and kept his superiors updated. The only issue with Brand’s help was his connection to the organization that provided the money. Brand is the president of the nonprofit organization that paid for N.P.L.’s tuition, and that raised a red flag when the IHSAA looked at the issue. IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox says that although he feels sympathy for the student athletes involved, the adults in the situation should have provided “better oversight.”
Brand says he wants it to be known that all of this was done for humanitarian purposes, and his players did nothing wrong.
“Even if it wasn’t done correctly, it was done for the right reasons,” Brand said. “All my young men didn’t benefit from the student being here, and they never would have.”
Perry Township hopes to clear up the situation and reinstate the boys varsity basketball team to the tournament. They issued an appeal to the IHSAA and await their formal hearing. For now, the seniors don’t have any form of playoff basketball to look forward to.
“The Southport (seniors) are extremely disappointed and upset by the IHSAA’s decision to prohibit them from playing in the tournament they have been working toward for four years,” the appeal said.