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(Con't): How did Devonte Green manage to play seven seasons?

[ CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 ]

    • No. 7 was Pittsford, the only district I'll identify here. Superintendent Michael Pero was arguably the key individual behind the superintendents' proposal. As such, leaders of other districts were looking to him for information, including talking points to help sway opinion. The six pages provided in response to my request were not the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but at least there was some meaningful information to be found.

   One of the emails from Pero looped in members of the school board on what was going on at the moment, including a heads-up that be believed Democrat and Chronicle reporter James Johnson "has already heard rumblings."

   But that was the only explicit sign from any of the seven school districts that the school board had knowledge of what was going on. In reality, all the school boards had to have known what was going on. Superintendents don't go off and make news the way these 18 did last November without the people who hire and fire superintendents being kept informed.

   But FOIL isn't flawless and neither school boards nor their employees can function if everything has to be documented for public consumption every step of the way. All that most residents want is for proper decisions to get made and for someone to be accountable when something goes wrong.

   Superintendents weigh what to reveal and when to do so all the time in that context on much more significant issues. If the board members don't like it, they can get rid of the superintendent. If the voters don't like it, they can get rid of the school board. It's called accountability.

   Personally, I'd like to see more accountability at all levels of government. But some is better than none. And when all else fails, I can usually pick up the phone and find someone willing to be chatty about what's really going on.

   In fact, that's how I confirmed that one of the seven records access officers I'd written to had sent up a flare warning most if not all of the other 17 (and their superintendents) that a FOIL request might be coming their way shortly.

   Seven seasons is one too many: Shortly before the Federation basketball tournament tipped off Friday morning at the Times Union Center in Albany, the eligibility status of one of the event's big names came into question.

   Long Island Lutheran guard Devonte Green -- a Division I recruit with a potential pro future -- had one or two games left in possibly the longest career of any scholastic athlete in the state. The fact that he was playing in his seventh varsity season raised obvious questions as to whether the organization to which his school belongs followed all the prudent steps in granting him one more season of eligibility than any athlete I can recall.

   LuHi, a member of the New York State Association of Independent Schools, ended up losing to eventual champ Thomas Jefferson in the Class AA semifinals and Green finished with 2,683 career points, No. 4 in state history. (An aside: The New York State Sportswriters Association, which keeps what has more or less become the official list of the state's 2,000-point scorers, has not yet decided whether his statistics from all seven seasons should count.) And though that didn't end the curiosity over how this most unusual career came to be, it did apparently end communication from people in a position to explain.

   Green, a well-traveled senior who averaged 21 points a game and has committed to play for Indiana University next season, began his varsity career in seventh grade at North Babylon during the 2009-10 season. That means this season was his seventh in varsity competition.

   The New York State Education Department allows junior-high students to play varsity sports under certain conditions, but such participation by a seven-grader starts a six-year eligibility clock that seemingly should have expired at the conclusion of last season. (Added emphasis is mine):

   "Duration of competition. A pupil shall be eligible for senior high school athletic competition in a sport during each of four consecutive seasons of such sport commencing with the pupil's entry into the ninth grade and prior to graduation, except as otherwise provided in this subclause, or except as authorized by a waiver granted under clause (d) of this subparagraph to a student with a disability. If a board of education has adopted a policy, pursuant to subclause (a)(4) of this subparagraph, to permit pupils in the seventh and eighth grades to compete in senior high school athletic competition, such pupils shall be eligible for competition during five consecutive seasons of a sport commencing with the pupil's entry into the eighth grade, or six consecutive seasons of a sport commencing with the pupil's entry into the seventh grade. A pupil enters competition in a given year when the pupil is a member of the team in the sport involved, and that team has completed at least one contest."
   Game accounts on the Newsday website show Green playing for North Babylon in the 2009-10 season.

   The most noteworthy possible exception to the rule -- applying to students with disabilities (who often have had little to no prior varsity experience) -- seemingly would not be applicable per the NYSED website even if Green was to seek such a waiver:

  

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  •    "Each waiver will be assessed on a case-by case basis and will only be granted after a determination is made by the superintendent of schools or chief executive officer of a non-public school that the student meets all eligibility requirements. The waiver will be limited to non-contact sports to ensure the safety of the given student as well as the other students competing in the sport who may be younger and less physically developed. These non-contact sports include swimming and diving, golf, track and field, cross country, rifle, bowling, gymnastics, skiing and archery, and any other such non-contact sport deemed appropriate by the Commissioner."
       A high school administrator who's seen eligibility appeals work their way up from league to sectional to state and then NYSED consideration suggested that Green's case would have faced additional skepticism from the State Education Department because, regardless of what other underlying issues might exist, he did manage to play a significant amount of basketball in each of his seven seasons. His lowest season point total in any of the seven was 262.

       As noted, Long Island Lutheran is a member of the NYSAIS, one of four organizations that sends champions to Federation competitions. A statement on the NYSAIS website lists LuHi as one of the schools agreeing to "follow the NYS Commissioner's Regulations as it pertains to athletics."

       My original inclination was to wonder whether Green's extra season came about due to bad bookkeeping created by his rather nomadic career. The brother of NBA player Danny Green is on his fourth school since seventh grade. According to scoring statistics supplied by Danny Green Sr., his varsity career began with two seasons at North Babylon, followed by repeating eighth grade at Our Savior New American. He played for Manhasset St. Mary's in his fourth varsity season and just completed his third year at Long Island Lutheran.

       With all that moving around, I thought that perhaps the LuHi people simply didn't realize how long he'd already been playing varsity ball before arriving there. I see enough eligibility problems in Rochester-area schools along comparable lines to know it's not out of the question. In one local case a few years back, officials of the new school even alleged that administrators at the previous school intentionally "lost" a page from an athlete's transcript with the intent of screwing over the new school.

       But LuHi coach John Buck said Friday the school recognized a looming issue and did in fact follow procedure by submitting an appeal to the NYSAIS following Green's sophomore year there. The NYSAIS approved the extra season of eligibility. "We followed the proper protocol," he said.

       What remains unanswered, however, is a two-part question: On what grounds was a waiver sought, and did the NYSAIS ask for guidance from the State Education Department when it should have been apparent that granting the waiver had implications down the road in the form of butting heads with black-letter law.

       And the questions remain unanswered because Buck's brief comments on Friday were the last uttered by anyone on the record.

       A State Education Department spokesman declined comment, citing the possibility that the matter might come before the commissioner in an appeal. That in itself was intriguing, since the department is aware that Green's scholastic career is absolutely, positively over.

       LuHi AD Todd Huebner did not respond to requests for comment last week.

       John Pizzi, vice president of the New York State Federation of Secondary Schools Athletic Association and executive secretary of the NYSAIS, stopped talking early in the process and referred questions to AIS Executive Director Mark Lauria, who did not respond to requests for comment Friday or Tuesday.

       The NYSAIS is already a mystery to many observers of high school sports who can't understand how Long Island Lutheran and Albany Academy advance to the Federation semifinals each March without playing so much as a single playoff game while NYSPHSAA, PSAL and CHSAA members go through a lengthy grind.

       The inability or unwillingness of NYSAIS officials to answer inquiries of legitimate public interest only raises questions whether perhaps more could have and should have been done to assure that Green's situation was handled appropriately.


      
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