The Illinois High School concluded its investigation of the Homewood-Flossmoor athletic program Tuesday and reinstated girls basketball coach Anthony Smith. Smith is eligible to coach at any IHSA member high school immediately.
The H-F district sent out a news release which made it look like it was much ado about nothing.
It was more finger-pointing than maybe pointing the finger at themselves. In a response to the IHSA, the release said:
"We are pleased that the IHSA review has come to an end and that Tony Smith has been cleared of any recruiting violations. The perceptions that have been portrayed in the media regarding recruiting and illegal residency are false and have no merit. Two of the three violations that were discovered and self-reported were happening system wide and are common scheduling practices utilized by many large comprehensive high schools to ensure the safety and participation of students. We look forward to making recommendations to the IHSA regarding the updating of bylaws in order to meet the needs of high schools with not just hundreds but also thousands of students participating in IHSA sanctioned activities."
While I do not think the school was trying to cheat and I know most of the H-F coaching staff and several administrators, passing the buck is not the answer. Homewood-Flossmoor has been a model for academics and extra-curricular activities, and that is not going to change. It was a pioneer in drug testing and is an example of how athletics can be an extension of the classroom. With all that happened, H-F took the high road and IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said the school's cooperation played a role in allowing Smith to return.
With that said, it is disappointing that at a time when H-F has a chance to own up to its transgressions, issue a public mea culpa and set about the task of providing other schools with a blueprint for how to conduct themselves in light of IHSA sanction investigations, it has chosen to deflect and downplay its role.
It is also too bad the girls basketball team got suspended from the state tournament and probably at the next board meeting, more students and parents will come to speak on Smith's behalf. I am sure they want him back as their coach, but it probably will not happen. He was terminated, along with two other first-year teachers, at the April 15 District 233 board meeting.
The release also said: "We want to assure the H-F community and the IHSA that we have always taken the high road knowing the truth would prevail over baseless law suits and damaging allegations. We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that protocols and procedures are in place to prevent this type of situation from happening again and we look forward to taking every opportunity to provide additional information related to the chain of events that occurred over the last several months now that there have been no additional findings of wrong doing."
Baseless lawsuits? If not for that original "Jane Doe" lawsuit, this might have gone unnoticed. IHSA spokesman Matt Troha said the organization did not wish to comment on H-F's response. Neither Hickman, Smith, superintendent Von Mansfield nor District 233 spokesperson Jodi Bryant returned calls seeking comments.
Whomever the next coach is will have to try and unite a program that has become divided against itself.