Parents and coaches for a Vancouver high school basketball team are crying foul over what they say is an unfair and 11th hour move to scrub the team from the city-wide championships.
The Kitsilano Secondary Junior Boys Basketball team was disqualified from the tournament on Thursday, after it was determined one of the players on the team was ineligible.
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“I think it’s just cruel. They’re 15-year-old kids playing sports,” volunteer coach Kenny MacIntyre told Global News.
“It’s a clerical error. This decision, I don’t know where the pressure came from.”
The player, who lives in the high school’s catchment area, transferred to Kitsilano High this year from a private school, MacIntyre explained.
According to MacIntyre, under BC School Sports rules, transfer students are supposed to sit out a year — a measure intended to prevent teams from recruiting and stacking teams — but the team only learned there was a problem on Jan. 23, the last day of their regular season.
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“When we found out he was ineligible we never played him anymore,” he said, adding that the team appealed but was denied.
On Thursday — after the championship tournament was already underway and Kitsilano had won its quarterfinal game — the team was notified that because the team had played the teen during its regular season, it had been ruled ineligible to compete.
“We got a ruling from the executive committee of Vancouver School Sports Athletic Association, that not only was he ineligible, his eligibility status of playing throughout the year affected our team’s overall performance and we have to forfeit our season,” he said.
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“We are out of the tournament and we are retroactively punished for playing a kid whose eligibility status was denied on Jan. 23, the same day of our last regular season game.”
The Vancouver School Board declined to make anyone available for an on-camera interview, but issued a statement defending the decision.
“After the Kitsilano Junior Boys basketball team was notified that a player was ineligible and told of the actions required to address the situation by BC School Sports, no actions were taken,” it said.
“The Vancouver Secondary Schools Athletic Association (VSSAA) and BC Sports were made aware of the team’s eligibility violation on the evening of February 15. VSSAA then made the decision to withdraw the team from the playoff tournament hosted at Kitsilano Secondary, to ensure all schools and teams have a fair opportunity to play and compete.”
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Parents, students devastated
MacIntyre said school administrators broke the news to the team Thursday morning, and said being present was “about one of the hardest things I have ever done.”
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“Crushing hopes and dreams is not why I coach. It was a puddle of tears,” he said.
Ron Aloni, whose whose teen is on the team, said his son came home from school “very depressed” and withdrawn.
“They’d won the game the day before, but my son had a rough game. So he came to school at 7 a.m. to practice, so he could be prepared for tonight’s game,” he said.
Parent Kristen Meekinson said her son phoned her in shock after getting the news, and said he was left feeling angry, frustrated and powerless.
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Meekinson said school administrators held a meeting with parents Thursday night, but that they appeared more interested in explaining the decision than advocating for the boys.
“I don’t believe they fought for the children, I don’t believe they advocated, it felt to me like, ‘My boss gave me an instruction and I turned around and I gave that instruction to the kids,’ and they’re the losers in all of this,” she said.
“It’s not their fault.”
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She said officials with the VSSA and the school both owe the players and apology and some kind of amends, adding that any mistakes that were made were made by adults, not the students.
“This is mental health, the kids need this. We all know at this point that team sports like this help with depression, help with anxiety, helps them collaborate, it keeps them out of bad places and difficult things — that should have been the first thing they thought of when they heard this, it should have been paused right there,” she said.
“These guys have worked so hard. This whole year I have seen them, coaches included, they have worked their butts off to get into this tournament and be a part of this game. This is what makes them want to come to school. Kids don’t go to counsellors, their therapy is on the court.”
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MacIntyre said the move has devastated the squad, which went 10-0 in its season and won the city championship tournament last year.
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The move was particularly tough on this group of boys, he said, because they lost their Grade 8 season to COVID-19, and were not allowed to play in front of their parents last year.
MacIntyre said he understands the purpose of the eligibility rule, but argued the decision to disqualify the team was not in the spirit of the regulation.
“This isn’t college basketball. These kids aren’t in their senior year trying to get scholarships,” he said.
“I will accept some of the blame as a coach 100 per cent. If you are going to wear a coach hat, you have to. I feel guilty. I don’t necessarily feel responsible, but I feel guilt, because I should have dug into the administrative side of sport further.”
— with files from Paul Johnson