Homewood-Flossmoor's girls basketball team, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A in Illinois, was suspended Wednesday from the state playoffs and required by the state's high school sports sanctioning agency to forfeit its wins from the 2013-14 season.
The Illinois High School Association announced the decision barely an hour before H-F was to face T.F. North in a first-round regional game in Calumet City.
"I have no comment at this point," Homewood-Flossmoor Superintendent Von Mansfield said when reached by phone Wednesday evening. "We've been cooperating with (the IHSA) and we're going to continue to do that."
Exiting Homewood-Flossmoor High School near 8 p.m. Wednesday, members of the Vikings girls basketball team and their parents, walking briskly, declined comment.
"Talk to our attorneys," the mother of a player said.
H-F finished the regular season with a 21-2 record, both losses coming to out-of-state teams, and was 14-0 in the SouthWest Suburban Blue.
According to an IHSA news release, the agency found H-F in violation of bylaws regarding athletic season limitations and open gym limitations.
"Not adhering to these bylaws created a distinct advantage for the Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball program," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in the release. "The school has admitted to violating IHSA Bylaws 2.090 and 3.107. In fairness to the teams in the tournament who abided by IHSA rules, removing Homewood-Flossmoor from competition was the most equitable decision."
None of the violations cited were directly linked to accusations that first-year coach Tony Smith illegally recruited six players, including four transfers from his previous coaching stop, Bolingbrook. A lawsuit was filed last month on behalf of an unnamed H-F player seeking Smith and the new players be barred from the team.
Senior football player James Sheehan described the girls basketball players as "devastated."
"We saw them all throughout school," he said. "Faith Suggs, she's in one of my classes, she just seemed physically and emotionally exhausted."
Suggs, a junior, transferred to H-F from Plainfield East. Smith was her AAU coach.
His sympathy for the girls basketball players aside, Sheehan conceded some admissions made by school administrators raised a few eyebrows.
"There was definitely some stuff a lot of students at H-F didn't know about — like how they were practicing as a team during the summer," he said. "Obviously, you can't do that."
On Tuesday, H-F administrators told the IHSA that it would self-impose suspensions of 11 varsity players and Smith over bylaw violations it reported, leaving the team to compete in Wednesday's playoff game with its remaining players. The IHSA went further, banning the team from competition.
Homewood-Flossmoor officials appealed, but the IHSA Board of Directors upheld Hickman's decision and required the school to forfeit its regular-season wins from the 2013-14 season, the IHSA release stated.
Hickman said more violations could be discovered as the investigation continues.
“We are still in the initial review of what occurred at the school and when,” Hickman said. “From the information provided thus far, other programs at the school may have also violated our Season Limitation and Open Gym bylaws. However, we will not know the full scope of the possible violations until we have completed our investigation.
"The investigation into the aforementioned recruiting violations is ongoing as well.”
H-F's other athletic programs felt the repercussions of the IHSA ruling immediately, according to players.
Isaac Cutrara, quarterback for H-F's state-qualifying football team and a member of the baseball team, noted that there has been an impact felt throughout the school' athletic program.
"A lot of other sports at H-F right now are being basically shut down," he said. "We can't lift anymore after school, stuff like that."
At T.F. North, administrators were left to explain the situation to fans as T.F. North players shot around in the gym.
"You always want to give kids the opportunity to play, that would be my feeling in general," North athletic director Dale Pietranczyk said. "Those kids lost the opportunity to participate in high school athletics.
"I'm not saying what the IHSA did was wrong. I'm saying, whatever happened, there are many losers in this whole situation. Just think about the senior girls at H-F."
T.F. North coach Chris Pruitt, whose team improved to 10-13 with the forfeit win, said her girls were disappointed to miss the opportunity to play the Vikings.
"They actually wanted to play them," she said. "I told them you want to play the best to become the best."
But Bloom Township coach Ron Newquist said Homewood-Flossmoor got what it deserved.
"If you cheat, you lose. That's all there is to it," Newquist said before his team played Lincoln-Way East in the Class 4A Lincoln-Way Regional semifinal on Wednesday night. "The bottom line is, every single one of us has to coach the kids that walk into the gym. The kids that live in our district. That's what we do as coaches.
"If you want to go out there and illegally recruit and try to build a championship team, that's against the rules. So there's no sympathy from me at all."
Times correspondent Tim Cronin contributed to this report.