February 12, 2010

St. Patrick suspended from state tournament

MORE: Top 100 Hoops Teams | Seventh grade girl scores state championship goal on varsity

Illegal workouts for big-name college coaches ... secret videotapes made by former state troopers turned undercover private investigators (we've got it below) ... complaints about illegal recruiting from a former NBA player with a checkered past ... fiery speeches, threats of lawsuits and name-calling that includes the use of "fascist" and "terrorist" ... all in the name of high school basketball.

As expected, Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick was officially banned from this year's New Jersey state basketball tournament and put on two years probation Friday by its state association.

Head coach Kevin Boyle, found guilty of holding illegal preseason workouts - so his players could be seen by college coaches - was suspended for three games.

Both decisions were handed down by the Executive Committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association in a meeting in Robbinsville, N.J.

The action, however, is just getting going. What happens next is a bit murky.

Boyle will be allowed to coach this weekend when his team, No. 14 in the latest RivalsHigh Hoops 100, meets No. 11 Mouth of River (Va.) Oak Hill on Friday (a 79-78 loss) and No. 23 New York (N.Y.) Rice on Saturday in the Prime Time shootout.

Boyle's suspension will begin next week. He may, in fact, be able to return in time for the final of the school's county tournament - a big deal in New Jersey. Having to give the sanctioned Boyle and his team the trophy is a possibility county officials already are fearing.

St. Patrick, however, will not be able to compete in the ESPN national tournament since it is not in good standing with the NJSIAA.

"Before we will even approach a school we have to know that the state association or the governing body will allow them to play in the games," ESPN spokesman Crystal Howard said. "If they don't say that schools in their governance could play in our games, we won't even consider going against those rulings and actually select or invite."

And St. Patrick principal Joe Picaro said the school has no intention of leaving the NJSIAA and becoming an independent, joining the likes of Oak Hill and nearby Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's Prep, No. 5 in the latest RivalsHigh poll.

"No, that's not something I've even thought about," Picaro said. "If it was up to Kevin Boyle I'm sure Kevin would like to do something like that and maybe even before now. But I run the show."

On Friday, St. Patrick attorney Kevin H. Marino ran the show - and he put on one as good as any you'd see on a TV legal drama.

In an impassioned, heated, confrontational and somewhat amusing 53-minute address of the 27-member Executive Committee, Marino compared the group to terrorists (earlier in the week, the local mayor called members of the Controversies Committee fascists), threatened numerous amounts of legal action and said they conducted an "unlawful, unconstitutional investigation" because they used a private investigator to uncover the findings.

Marino vowed "civil action for damages. There will be civil litigation. There will be a ... lawsuit ... that will name [NJSIAA executive director] Mr. [Steve] Timko ... and every member of the executive committee."

Asked if there might be a class-action lawsuit or just a series of individual suits, Marino said: "That hasn't been determined yet, but certainly one doesn't need much imagination to think of the number of different people whose rights were transgressed by the manner in which this investigation was conducted."

On Thursday, Marino cited what he called three other similar violations that resulted in significantly less penalties, while filing his appeal.

NJSIAA attorney Mike Herbert, who said the association has been sued 151 times since 1982, is confident the penalty - approved by a 26-0 vote with one abstention - will stand.

"I think the Controversies Committee believed that the decision was mild compared to what happened," Herbert said. "Being eliminated from the state tournament is a typical penalty that's imposed when it's a violation of the rules. Here you're talking about something that directly relates to the ability to compete in fair competition and that is conducting impermissible practices."

NJSIAA video shows St. Patrick boys basketball coach Kevin Boyle in violation of preseason workouts rule
A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

St. Patrick and Boyle admit the violation took place. Their issue - in addition to the severity of the penalty - was that the findings were discovered by a private investigator on their campus, an act they described as criminal trespassing.

Herbert, however, said schools knew that was a possibility when the investigator was hired years back.

"When everybody joins this association, they have to assume that their school premises is going to be available," Herbert said.

The NJSIAA launched an investigation of St. Patrick after Timko got a call last September from troubled former basketball star Chris Washburn, who expressed concern over the transfer of his two sons, 6-foot-7 Julian and 6-8 Chris Jr., from Duncanville (Texas) High to St. Patrick in August.

Washburn inquired how his wife, Michelle, could afford to enroll the students in the school given that she had no job or means of payment.

"We had a complaint that a 6-foot-7 and a 6-foot-8 highly regarded prospects had moved over 1,000 miles to live with their mother and according to the father, Chris Washburn, had no means of support. At least on the surface that indicated [illegal] recruitment," Herbert said.

Timko and the NJSIAA then used Patrick Reilly, a retired New Jersey state trooper, to secretly videotape workouts at St. Patrick and the Washburn brothers as they went back and forth to an Extended Stay America hotel in Elizabeth.

The NJSIAA ultimately did not find any evidence that the Washburn brothers had been recruited to St. Patrick.

Yet during the investigation of the Washburn brothers, the out-of-season practices were uncovered. Boyle admitted in a hearing before the Controversies Committee that he was present for six out-of-season workouts beginning Oct. 6 in front of college coaches, including Kentucky coach John Calipari.

St. Patrick, the winner of three of the last four Non-Public B state tournaments and New Jersey's ultimate prize - three of the last four Tournament of Champions titles - saw its chances to defend either of those titles this season end Friday.

This story, however, doesn't figure to end anytime soon.

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