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ITeam web exclusive: Scandal behind closed doors: IHSA vs. Mooseheart

December 10, 2012 12:58:34 PM PST
The three towering, African teenagers who play basketball for Mooseheart high school near Batavia are accustomed to secret justice. In their homeland of South Sudan-that they fled 18 months ago for the safety, security and education that Mooseheart offered-justice is arbitrary and punishment is swiftly violent.

The young men may feel right at home on Monday afternoon when officials of the Illinois High School Association determine their fate during a closed-door hearing. It will be the crest of a week-long wave that has come crashing down on Mooseheart's 99-year mission to save troubled and underprivileged young people.

Read Mooseheart's latest court filing here

While the IHSA is unlikely to order flogging or stoning, or the typical hand amputation that is favored punishment for petty thieves in the Sudan, the players' eligibility to dribble and shoot a basketball for one of the state's tiniest high schools will be determined. Similar to the legal and administrative procedures afforded their countrymen in battle-scarred Sudan, the entire matter will be heard and decided behind closed doors at IHSA headquarters in downstate Bloomington.

PUBLIC, MEDIA: NOT ALLOWED

In a blunt email distributed to news organizations on Sunday morning, IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha asked that reporters and crews not even show up at association headquarters until the hearing has ended, claiming they don't have anywhere to "hold media inside."

The email reminds that the meeting and hearing are "closed to the public and media."

According to high school association officials they are a private, not-for-profit organization that does not have to abide by open meetings laws, freedom of information regulations or any other means of public transparency. The ITeam's repeated requests for access to Monday's hearing in front of the IHSA board have been denied, despite the fact that the board is composed of public high school principals.

Attorneys from the K & L Gates law firm in Chicago that represents Mooseheart have asked that at least a court reporter be present so there will be an official transcript, a request supported by Kane County Judge David Akemann who issued a temporary restraining order against the IHSA's ban on the boys. However, until the hearing is held, it is unclear whether IHSA officials will allow a court reporter to be present.

"SECRET INVESTIGATION"

At issue is whether Mooseheart exploited juniors Akim Nyang, Makur Puou and Mangisto Deng (who are 7-1, 6-10 and 6-7 respectively) and brought the students to its campus for athletic reasons through an organization called A-HOPE ? or African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education.

Although the IHSA knew about the circumstances of their admission (and that of of a fourth Mooseheart student athlete who ran track) and signed off on the whole thing a year ago, the association launched what Mooseheart lawyers have called a "secret investigation." The attorneys claim that IHSA's deputy director duped them into participating in the investigation by representing that it was a statewide probe and that Mooseheart was not being targeted.

One sharply-contested point is the motivation for such an investigation in the first place. It allegedly began early this year when the athletic director and boys basketball coach at rival Hinckley-Big Rock High School raised red flags with the IHSA about how Mooseheart obtained the African players.

RESPONSE TO CONFLICT OF INTEREST CHARGE

The ABC7 ITeam reported on Thursday that IHSA deputy director Kurt Gibson, who ran the investigation, himself once worked as a coach at teacher at Hinckley-Big Rock High School.

We have now learned that Mr. Gibson was among three IHSA officials who received the initial complaint from Hinckley-Big Rock's current athletic director and that it was Gibson who initially responded and said "he is in charge of boys' basketball as was looking into it."

In a statement provided to the ITeam by Hinckley-Big Rock, it's first response to ABC7 inquiries since we broke the story a week ago, school officials deny any conflict of interest in having former staff member Kirk Gibson conduct the investigation.

"There is no conflict that I am aware of regarding his past affiliation with HBR," Dr. Peter Pasteris, superintendent of Hinckley-Big Rock schools told us. "I arrived here as superintendent on July 1st of this year. I had no idea that he worked at HBR for two school years nearly twenty years ago.

"Also our high school principal, Jay Brickman began his employment here on July 1, 2009. Our athletic director, Bill Sambrooks began here on August 19, 2002. In addition, Mr. Sambrooks initially contacted the IHSA on February 29, 2012. His inquiry was addressed to Dr. Hickman, Mr. Gibson, and Beth Sauser. He contacted all three of them simultaneously because Dr. Hickman oversees the entire IHSA, Mr. Gibson is the 'official' in charge of boys' basketball, and Ms. Sauser is in charge of girls' basketball."

The superintendent said that "Mr. Gibson responded indicating that he is in charge of boys' basketball as was looking into it".

SUPT PASTERIS NO STRANGER TO IHSA RECRUITING SCANDAL

In September 2006, while principal of Plainfield North High School outside Chicago, Pasteris was barred from the ISHA board for recruiting violations. The Plainfield North head football coach and two assistants were suspended and the team was banned from state playoff competition for two years.

The school's punishment was later reversed according to Pasteris who contacted the ITeam on Monday. He also provided documentation from December 2006 that showed IHSA director Marty Hickman lifted the sanctions against him and the Plainfield North athletic director, two and a half months after they had been put in place.

"I was hoping it would not come up," Pasteris said on Monday of the recruiting case from six years ago in a previous job. "There's nothing to it" he said. "People are making this out to be a lot more than what it is."

Such entanglements have raised questions about both the motivation for a foreign recruiting case investigation and Hinckley-Big Rock's involvement in the mechanics of the case.

In the current scandal that has publicly pitted Hinckley-Big Rock (a public school) against Mooseheart (a privately funded, residential school) a press release revealed by the ITeam has become something of a smoking gun in the case.

The statement was posted on Hinckley's website and was dated November 28. That date was well before the IHSA had decided anything, notified Mooseheart or any court papers had been filed. However, the Hinckley-Big Rock statement made reference to those actions even though they had not yet occurred.

That inexplicable statement forecasting future events is the subject of a Friday court filing by Mooseheart attorneys, who allege that it is evidence of a conspiracy of sorts. They believe the memo shows that Hinckley-Big Rock was in cahoots with IHSA investigators and has been informed ahead of time that Mooseheart was about to be punished.

MEMO PREDICTING FUTURE DISAPPEARED

After the ITeam reported on the memo, it was hastily taken down from the school's website. After the ITeam asked Hinckley-Big Rock officials about the so-called smoking gun memo, Supt. Pasteris replied:

"This was simply a clerical error. We had NO knowledge of the IHSA ruling until your [initial] report came out at 6:00 PM on Monday, December 3rd. In light of the rapid developments, particularly expressed toward HBR, we knew we had to send out a quick response. The press release was created at 2:37 PM on December 4th and posted on the website shortly thereafter."

The IHSA has not commented substantively regarding the Mooseheart matter although Executive Director Marty Hickman is scheduled to address media following a final decision.

If board members vote to uphold Hickman's decision to banish the African students from Mooseheart athletics, further court proceedings in Kane County are likely to continue.


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