Scheibe: In lawsuit against H-F and Anthony Smith, there likely won’t be a winner
By Bill Scheibe firstname.lastname@example.org January 16, 2014 8:28PM
Anthony Smith led Bolingbrook's girls basketball team to four state championships. | File photo
Updated: February 18, 2014 6:29AM
This might shock some people, but local sports writers basically are like everybody else. They like the feel-good stories, the type that get you patted on the back when you walk into a packed gym to cover a game.
But the story broken by the Sun-Times on Wednesday regarding the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court against Homewood-Flossmoor High School asking for the removal of Vikings coach Anthony Smith and the suspension of six transfer student-athletes?
Please read Tony Baranek’s terrific story for the background details. He does a thorough job handling those aspects, and I don’t want to cover familiar ground. He touches all the bases of what, unfortunately, is headed to a court of law instead of a basketball court.
The lawsuit will argue that this all started this summer, but the truth is it actually goes back to 2001. Smith took over at Bolingbrook for Paul Cieslak, who with Smith as his sophomore coach turned the lowly Raiders from a winless program into a winning program.
Within five years, Smith had the Raiders winning state championships. Four of them, in fact. And it began with Bolingbrook kids such as Chloe Kerr, whose brothers were basketball standouts, plus Brittney Thomas, Ariel Massengale, Mauvolyene Adams, Morgan Tuck and Samantha Woods, who “came home” from Fenwick.
It wasn’t the transfer of Woods, however. It was when Miranda Tate transferred in from Texas. She never finished her career at Bolingbrook, but the floodgates opened and never really stopped. A steady stream of players from the area wanted to play for Bolingbrook — wanted to play for Smith.
Every time, the IHSA ruled Bolingbrook, and Smith, in compliance. Smith left to take over the H-F program over the summer and six players — four from Bolingbrook and one apiece from Plainfield East and Marist — followed him. Again, the IHSA ruled H-F and Smith were all good.
The timing of the lawsuit appears odd. Why now? Why not in the summer, when the allegations supposedly happened? We’re nearing the end of the three-month mark of the season. Playing time, perhaps?
Still, to be fair, behind this lawsuit is a young girl. The lawsuit was filed on the girl’s behalf by her parent, and her parent is being her advocate. Obviously, the girl feels like she’s been wronged, and she might have been. The crux goes to the ever-changing transfer rules.
This year, the IHSA tightened the transfer rules, eliminating certain scenarios. Next year, the private-to-public waiver returns. I think it’s time the principals and administrators proposed a one-time-only transfer with stringent guidelines.
Let’s be honest. The theory that the high school level is the last, pure bastion of sport has been on a slippery slope for years. When contact days for high school coaches went from unlimited to none to a limited amount, that opened a Pandora’s box.
What emerged was the cottage industry of club, AAU and travel teams, with parents chasing the almighty dollar. What is the ROI, return on investment? You pay to play club, that means a scholarship becomes a must, and that’s why so many kids transfer.
The eyebrows were raised by the volume of transfers to H-F, but the volume of transfers for football and basketball has been on the rise in recent years. It’s not my job to be judge or jury, and in the TMZ world we live in where you’re guilty until proved innocent, I know a bunch of people were applauding the lawsuit.
You never discuss politics or religion. With high school sports, you never discuss Private vs. Public (the biggest no-win situation) and transfers. Nobody can agree on what’s right, be it the multiplier or boundaries or anything else. It’s not easy.
I’ve been around high school sports for almost 30 years. As punishment, I married someone who has coached a nationally ranked girls volleyball program to three state titles. When you win, the theory is, you sin. It’s almost always assumed the winners have to be doing something wrong.
Anthony Smith is a great coach. I covered him for much of his 12-year run at Bolingbrook. Academically, his players reach the highest standards. His teams play hard, they compete hard. He has his supporters and he has as many detractors, and this one is a new one — a player suing her own school, her own team, her own coach.
Stay tuned for more.
Bill Scheibe is the suburban sports editor for the Sun-Times, including the SouthtownStar.