By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It is a situation any high school athletic program hopes to avoid, let alone Highlands and Newport Central Catholic.
Former Kentucky Wildcat basketball player Rodrick Rhodes took over the Cordia Lion boys basketball program in 2011 and the Lions quickly rose to unprecedented heights. Newport Central Catholic beat Cordia twice last winter including a 72-61 victory in the All “A” State championship on Feb. 2 in the Frankfort Civic Center.
But with the rise in victories came a lot of suspicion because many in-state and out-of-state players found their way to the eastern Kentucky school with a Hazard address located in Knott County. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association confirmed those suspicions Monday slapping Cordia with severe penalties after concluding nearly a year-long investigation. The investigation concluded Cordia violated a number of Kentucky bylaws including Bylaw 1 (Responsibility of Eligibility), Bylaw 4 (Enrollment Requirements), Bylaw 6 (Transfer Rule-Citizens of the U.S. or U.S Territories), Bylaw 7 (Transfer Rule-Foregin Exchange Students), Bylaw 11 (Financial Aid), Bylaw 16 (Recruitment/Undue Influence), Bylaw 23 (Limitation of Season) and Bylaw 25 (Requirement for Coaches).
Cordia will not be able to play any scrimmages or games in either the regular or postseason next year. The Lions are also banned from the 2016 KHSAA-sanctioned postseason. Players with eligibility remaining can transfer to various KHSAA member schools without problems.
Cordia finished 23-9 last year. The scores from the nine losses including the two to Newport Central Catholic will stand. But the 23 victories will go down as 2-0 losses including All “A” Tournament wins over Carroll County, Paducah St. Mary and Betsy Layne.
“We try to follow (the rules) to the letter of the law. I think most schools do a good job of keeping within the guidelines,” said Ron Dawn, Newport Central Catholic head boys basketball coach. “The rules are there to help the schools.”
NewCath finished 29-4 last year claiming its sixth straight 36th District crown. Highlands finished 9-15 in Kevin Listerman’s first year as head coach. The Bluebirds made it to the 9th Region Tournament for the first time in two years. Listerman has vowed not to cut corners in building the Bluebirds back into a region contender.
“It’s high school sports,” Listerman said. “We’re not in the business of (NCAA) Division I scholarships and professional athletes. If we’re lucky enough to get one or two of them in our lifetime as a coach, that’s by the luck of the draw. There are a lot of schools that are more interested in championships than developing people. If you do things the right way and treat people the right way, the success will come.”
Cordia will also be placed on probation until 2019 and two members of the Cordia coaching staff will be suspended from the KHSAA-sanctioned postseason tournaments for next season. It is not known if Rhodes is one of those coaches. In addition, the school must pay an aggregate fine of $25,980.
“The majority of the aforementioned violations are clearly indicative of a school without any appreciable level of institutional control over its athletic program. While some violations date back to the 2010-2011 school year, the major violations occurred during the past twelve to twenty-four months. The violations in previous years, however, add context and it is my conclusion that they illustrate an undeniable pattern of practice and culture of noncompliance that has been allowed to evolve at Cordia,” Tackett said in his communication to the school. “Unfortunately, after this long and careful review, this series of events may well represent the most wanton and blatant disregard for Association rules in its 97-year history. There is apparently no person within the school or school system willing to actively and aggressively control and manage the athletic program. Therefore, students have been allowed an unrestricted privilege of participation without compliance with applicable and appropriate rules.”
The KHSAA listed 14 different violations as a result of the investigation in the release. They were as follows.
- Falsifying records, or maintaining inaccurate records with regards to living arrangements of transferring student-athletes;
- Allowing a staff member to lease housing to the family of a student-athlete without ever receiving payment;
- Impermissible contact with multiple student-athletes with the intent to sway them to enroll at Cordia for the purpose of competing in athletics;
- Providing free transportation to relocate a student from an out-of-state school;
- Providing plane tickets on two separate occasions to a student-athlete so he could travel out-of-state;
- Facilitating housing for a student-athlete at no cost to him or his family;
- Providing money and clothes to student-athletes;
- Conducting tryouts for non-enrolled students;
- Paying the entire cost of education for two students on an F-1 exchange VISA to attend Cordia;
- Providing housing to numerous students that participated on the boys’ basketball team, as well as housing for their families;
- Allowing ineligible players to practice and compete in contests before they were cleared to participate;
- Requiring players to attend practice prior to the official start date for preseason practice (October 15), and disciplining students who missed these practice sessions;
- Holding “open gym” practices that were limited to the boys’ basketball team and thus mandatory, following the elimination from the postseason; and
- Failing to properly monitor the coaching requirements for individuals coaching in the boys’ basketball program, including the obligation to complete the legislatively mandated Sports Safety Course. These violations included a 30-day period during the 2013-14 season when no member of the coaching staff met the requirements of Bylaw 25.