IHSA says H-F girls basketball program, coach Anthony Smith may face more penalties
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org February 20, 2014 7:04PM
Homewood-Flossmoor head coach Anthony Smith reacts after a call against Bolingbrook in Bolingbrook on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 21, 2014 2:15AM
Marty Hickman broke some hearts Wednesday when he announced that Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s girls basketball team was being ousted from the Class 4A state tournament because of several violations of Illinois High School Association bylaws.
He might not be done.
The IHSA executive director said the organization is continuing to look into preseason conditioning violations by the school, the penalties for which could spill over into other sports, including boys basketball.
“I have made no decisions yet, but that’s one of the issues we’re going to research in more detail,” Hickman said.
He also said girls basketball coach Anthony Smith could face more sanctions regarding recruiting violations that were alleged in a lawsuit filed against the school in mid-January by the parent of an unnamed H-F player. The lawsuit seeks Smith’s removal as coach and that six players who transferred to H-F this school year be declared ineligible.
“His suspension by the (IHSA) board is indefinite,” Hickman said. “That’s to be resolved. We’re continuing to look at this situation, including the recruiting allegations. We’ve had some folks reach out to us based on the lawsuit that was filed, so we have some interviews we’ll likely conduct with some other folks in the community.”
Smith, who is in his first year at H-F, declined a phone interview Thursday. He previously coached at Bolingbrook High School, where his girls teams won four state titles and twice finished second. Four of his players followed him from Bolingbrook this school year.
H-F players who aren’t seniors will be eligible to play basketball next season, Hickman said.
The decision to banish the team from the state playoffs and declare all of its games this season as forfeits resulted from what Hickman described as some of the worst violations of the IHSA’s preseason conditioning rules — the details of which were provided by the school Feb. 3 in a report to the IHSA after H-F’s internal investigation.
“It starts with the fact that you can’t have sports-specific preseason conditionings,” Hickman said. “That’s the basic premise. But it gets worse from there by (H-F) breaking down by levels and assigning specific coaches ... to that age group of kids and announcing it as preseason sports conditioning for kids who are interested in a particular sport.
“I don’t think it could get a whole lot worse, in terms how it violated our rules.”
Compounding the problems for the girls basketball program was an admission by the school that Smith had violated rules involving players’ participation on his AAU club team and his designation as its coach.
Hickman said a resolution was reached in a phone conference Tuesday regarding the girls team’s eligibility for the state tournament — 11 players from the AAU team and Smith would not participate, allowing the six remaining varsity members and some sophomores to play.
“I thought that was a good resolution,” Hickman said. “I was supposed to get a letter to that effect (from H-F) Wednesday morning, but the letter never came.”
H-F officials instead requested to send a delegation to Bloomington on Wednesday to further discuss the proposed penalty with the IHSA board.
“After conversations with parents, students and school officials that (Tuesday) evening, the administration decided to appeal the discipline recommendation,” H-F’s director of human resources and public relations Jodi Bryant said. “Administrative team members went to the IHSA on Wednesday to explain the reasoning behind the infractions, to try to help them understand the violations were unintentional and not the fault of the student-athletes.
“Our intention was to let the IHSA know that we were taking responsibility for the violations and to ask that the consequences be directed toward the (school) district and not the individual athletes,” Bryant said. “We wanted the team to have the opportunity to complete its season even if the coach could not participate.”
Upon the H-F officials’ arrival, the original agreement was rescinded, and, after a meeting, the IHSA board decided to ban the whole team from the tournament.
“We accept and appreciate that the IHSA heard our appeal,” Bryant said. “We have a longstanding relationship with the IHSA based on mutual respect and cooperation.”
Hickman didn’t feel good about the situation Thursday. But he had no regrets about handing out one of the stiffest penalties in IHSA history.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “It’s not a good day when we’re in a situation of taking kids out (of a tournament) or a team out. But while it’s difficult for those kids, we have an obligation to all of the kids (statewide) to make sure they’re playing under the same types of rules.”
Hickman stressed that the officials at H-F have been “extremely” cooperative during the investigative process.
“They have given me everything I asked for,” he said. “But prior to all of this coming about, I think the procedures there at the school were loose. I think there was not enough oversight, apparently, of the athletic program to make sure that the open gyms and the conditioning programs were complying with the rules or there was just a real lack of understanding of what our rules are all about.”
“We’re hopeful that we’re all going to move on and get this tournament done and work toward bringing their programs into compliance.”