High School Basketball

Ineligible player costs Dunbar wins

Paul Laurence Dunbar's boys' basketball team forfeited its 13 wins for the 2008-09 season after a Fayette County Public Schools investigation found earlier this year that the school violated policy by playing an eighth-grader who did not live in Dunbar's district.

In Fayette County, middle school students are allowed to compete on high school athletic teams, but they must attend the schools assigned to their home addresses.

Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman confirmed that the eighth-grader was Larry Morton, who attended Beaumont Middle School in the 2008-09 school year but lived in Bryan Station Middle School's district. That is not in Dunbar's attendance area.

A telephone number could not be found for Morton or his parents.

As a result of the situation with the basketball team, Silberman said, school officials are considering asking that all parents — not just the parents of student athletes — sign a document confirming their child's home address, beginning this spring.

"We don't want any kind of recruiting" or shopping for a preferred school, Silberman said.

Former University of Kentucky player Bo Lanter, whose son Tod Lanter was a senior guard on the 2008-09 Dunbar team, initially questioned Morton's eligibility.

"Based on the circum stances, a thorough investigation of the head coach's involvement should have been done," Lanter said.

But Silberman said the school district's investigation concluded that Carl "Redd" Hutchinson, Dunbar's basketball coach, did not know Morton lived in Bryan Station's district.

In an interview Tuesday, Hutchinson said he did not recruit Morton and did not know he lived outside Dunbar's district. He said he thought Morton was living with his grandparents in the district.

In Kentucky, the rules concerning student athletes and the school for which they can play are watched carefully. Coaches and parents have gone to extremes to get students on specific teams.

In February and March, Lanter wrote to the Dunbar coach and to principal Anthony Orr and spoke to Fayette County schools' officials. However, he said his concerns were not addressed.

Dunbar officials, who said they investigated all of Lanter's concerns, notified players and parents that Morton was ineligible and that they were voluntarily forfeiting games on May 27, nearly three months after the season's end.

Morton now attends Lexington Catholic but is not playing basketball there, said Brandon Salsman, Lexington Catholic's basketball coach.

Had Morton stayed in the Fayette County school district, he would have been ineligible to play any sport for one year under district policy, Silberman said.

Who gets to play?

Lanter, who said his son's lack of playing time was only part of his concern, said that the Fayette school investigation did not go far enough and that school officials' actions were inadequate.

It was never explained to parents why the eighth-grader joined the team three days before the season began and was in the starting lineup even though he had not practiced with the team, he said. That, he said, was unfair to the players.

The letter to parents said: "The investigation determined that Coach Hutchinson took appropriate steps to verify that the student's reported address was within the Dunbar district." The letter was signed by Orr, Athletic Director Andy Sirginnis and Hutchinson.

Silberman said school officials also interviewed Rahsaan Berry, a Lexington police officer who served as an assistant Dunbar coach. Berry said he also thought Morton lived at his grandmother's home in the Dunbar district. (Assistant coaches need not be full-time school staff members.) Berry, who decided not to return for the 2009-10 season, said he gave Morton a ride home from practice once, and that was to Morton's grandmother's home.

Silberman said Morton joined the team late because he also played football at Beaumont and wasn't available until just before Dunbar's basketball season started.

Hutchinson said middle school students have an open invitation to try out for high school teams, and Morton made the team during a routine tryout.

"I'm not going to go out and try to recruit the No. 1 recruiting class," Hutchinson said. "They don't pay me for that. They pay me for working with the young men within the building."

Investigators discovered that Morton was ineligible when they waited outside Morton's grandmother's home and saw that he did not leave from there in the mornings, Silberman said.

Lanter said that because the ineligible player was in the starting lineup, his son, a senior who scored 26 points in the first game, was never given a chance to start. That meant college scouts were unable to watch him play, Lanter said.

But, "obviously, coaches have the right to play who they want to play," Lanter acknowledged. "Every parent thinks their child should play more."

Hutchinson said his policy is simple: The strongest players are put into the starting lineup.

Tod Lanter is now playing for Gulf Coast Junior College in Panama City Beach, Fla., according to his father.

'A strong stance'

Silberman defended Fayette County Public Schools' actions.

"We did a thorough investigation," the superintendent said. "We don't ever want this to occur. We don't want kids going to the wrong schools. We have taken a strong stance. We are just not going to tolerate it."

Elden May, a spokesman for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, said that although Dunbar violated Fayette County rules, the school did not violate any rules of the KHSAA, which oversees high school sports in Kentucky.

Dunbar officials' letter to parents said that even though they didn't have to contact the KHSAA, "out of our commitment to fairness and transparency, we believe it is our duty to report this incident to the KHSAA and voluntarily forfeit those games."