Monday, January 27, 2014

Saco Hammers Sheldon; Points To AAU Coaches, Lying On Paperwork As Reasons

A 31-page report was put on the desk of Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco roughly two weeks ago by the Elk Grove Unified School District. It contained the summary of its investigation into possible CIF rules violations by the Sheldon High School’s boys’ basketball team.

That report detailed stories such as paying for dinners for non-Sheldon enrolled boys, providing free tickets to the playoffs for potential players, holding “open gym” practices at the school with players not enrolled at Sheldon and allowing non-Sheldon students play in summer tournaments for a team representing itself as Sheldon High.

It’s the kind of report that one only hears about and think occurs only at the collegiate level. Like the NCAA, the California Interscholastic Federation also thinks this kind of activity is illegal.

“This is an unfortunate situation.,” Elizabeth Graswich, EGUSD’s Director of Communications said. “Our expectation is that everyone involved in our athletic programs -- staff, coaches, parents and students -- follow the rules.”

On the heels of releasing the report, EGUSD suspended Joey Rollings, the Sheldon coach who led the Huskies to the last four Division I Section championships. But, it was up to Saco to inflict more consequences on to the entire program.

Saco told the Citizen that the report, prepared primarily by EGUSD interim athletic director Todd Rieswig, was more thorough than the infamous recruiting scandal at Franklin High School in Stockton. That school’s coaches and administration was accused in 2007 of attracting players from American Samoa to come play in the States.

Next to that scandal, Saco said, the infractions of which Sheldon is accused ranks right up near the top of all the rules violations he’s examined in the years he’s been Section commissioner.

His ruling Monday fell just short of the “death penalty” he placed on Franklin’s athletic program, yet stands as the harshest ever put on any sports department in Elk Grove Unified.

On top of a post-season ban placed on the Huskies’ program by Saco, Sheldon can play only 24 games each of the next two years, a reduction of three games each season. Plus, the Huskies, who have made it regularly to some highly renowned basketball tournaments in places like Kentucky, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, will be restricted to one four-game tournament each of the next two years.

Additionally, five current Sheldon players (some are junior varsity team members) are immediately ineligible and cannot play until Jan. 27, 2015. One player who has not yet been cleared for this season will be able to play at the start of next year.

There are two other transfers who are in their senior year at Sheldon, were ruled ineligible for the year in December and they await an appeal to the CIF State office.

On top of those seven, the Section told a current eighth grader he would not be eligible at Sheldon until the 2016-2017 school year. But, if he wanted to enroll at a different school, he could and be eligible to play his freshmen season of high school.

Talk to most basketball people around and stories of recruiting by people connected to Sheldon are not new.

Why didn’t the Elk Grove district act sooner since rumors of recruiting had been circulating for quite a while around the Sheldon program? Reiswig said because up until recently, it’s all been just a bunch of rumors.

“It was a written statement that was provided to us and we looked into it,” Rieswig said. “Rumors are one thing, but when someone will stand up and say something then we have something we can go on.”

Saco and his staff at the Lodi offices of the Section also began perusing the transfer documents sent to them by Sheldon officials. According to the Section’s news release on Monday, “instances of fraudulent information provided by incoming transfers … would cause those students to be determined ineligible.”

“Anytime a student transfers there’s a large amount of paperwork that must be filled out and sent to the Sac-Joaquin Section office,” Reiswig said. “That part of the news release was something that the Section office discovered in their review of the paperwork.”

In the middle of this investigation was the influence AAU basketball coaches had on sending players to Sheldon. Reiswig stopped short of pointing a finger to these men, some of who have boys on the Huskies’ squad.

“All CIF rules are a priority,” is what he said.

Saco went a bit further in his Monday ruling. “All AAU practices held on the Sheldon High School campus must be logged on an attendance sheet with the names of the attendees on the sheet.”  The sheets are then to be signed off by a Sheldon administrator daily and forwarded to Reiswig on the 15th and 30th of each month that such activities are taking place.

The future of head varsity coach Joey Rollings, school athletic director Denise Aguilar or principal Paula Duncan was not addressed on Monday.

“We did our investigation and have acted upon the results of that investigation,” Graswich said.

She would not discuss the disciplinary action taken.

Graswich also promised that Duncan would have a statement soon.

In order to prevent these kinds of circumstances in the future, Reiswig says the district will quickly organize a series of informational meetings initially for parents of athletes.

“And, we will begin a training with principals, vice principals, athletic directors not just at Sheldon but at all other schools to go over all CIF rules and make it clear we will follow CIF rules,” he said.

As far as student/athletes making use of open enrollment to attend the school of their choice for sports, Reiswig said that’s the job of the school to scrutinize.

“As far as CIF is concerned, a child is a student first and an athlete second. That is our philosophy as well,” he said.

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