Every month the Ohio High School Athletic Association releases a list of schools that have violated its various rules. Its next release will likely be unprecedented, which is noteworthy because the OHSAA has been policing its members since 1907.
At least nine area schools had girls basketball players suspended for attending a non-sanctioned practice Feb. 20: Beavercreek, Kenton Ridge, Springboro, Fairmont, Xenia, Tecumseh, Covington, Troy Christian and Bellefontaine. The girls all were required to sit out two games. A suspension could roll over to next season if not fulfilled.
That makes it possibly the single most flagrant, collateral affect rules violation the OHSAA has ever dealt with.
An estimated 40-60 girls of all ages attended the workout at Wilberforce University and directed by Terry Toliver. The OHSAA has since advised them they violated rule 7.2.1, in which players grades 7-12 are not permitted to participate in any other event in the same sport during an ongoing season. Those players whose seasons had ended prior to the workout weren’t affected.
Toliver was removed as the Xenia High School girls varsity coach soon afterward. A Dayton Lady HoopStars coach last summer, Toliver had hoped to get a jump in interest in starting his own non-sanctioned program. Instead, at least nine high school teams had their rosters depleted on the outset of the sectional tournament.
A snow-out caused most girls games to be canceled last Saturday. That likely prevented a lot of affected teams from having to forfeit had they played eventually suspended players.
“It was a learning experience,” said Tecumseh girls coach Danielle Thomas. “I think we’re still not done learning. There are a lot of questions that will be asked by coaches and other people. A lot of these kids train. What’s acceptable as training?”
As word spread of the event, coaches like Carroll’s Rob Berry immediately questioned their players if they had attended. Most were proactive and withheld their suspected players from the following game before the OHSAA announced the suspensions.
“I think (Toliver) got overzealous,” Berry said following a sectional loss to Kenton Ridge. “You should never, ever put a kid at risk. What’s another week? That’s just ridiculous.”
Toliver issued a statement saying his duties as a head coach, AAU coach and personal trainer were blurred and affected his judgment. He regretted the fallout.
One longtime area girls basketball enthusiast put it best: Don’t play ball anywhere else but at your school and on road games during a season.
OHSAA assistant commissioner Jerry Snodgrass is the chief administrator for boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball and baseball. He’s also the OHSAA’s main liaison with athletic administrators. Here’s what he had to say about the multiple suspensions:
Q: Has the OHSAA dealt with any incident that has caused this much fallout?
A: I don’t believe so. It is as widespread and affected more schools and kids than anything I’ve had (with the OHSAA). You hear things like, you wouldn’t believe what’s going on. I don’t think I’m out of touch. I’m still close to the world I lived in and that’s athletic directors and basketball. I’ll often say, give me one example. The answer is, well, you know they’re out there. It’s like the old urban myth is out there on this stuff. I agree this is one situation that’s as pronounced as any.
Q: Is this a teaching moment?
A: Of all the girls that have endured suspensions over this, at the same time, you have to look for anything good out of this. You hate it to be at the expense of any girl, but this coming to light like this is going to alert a lot more people. I got an email from somebody from Northeast Ohio totally unconnected to this. I can promise you the reason (they) self-reported was because of the incident in your area.
Q: Does the OHSAA address how to deal with instances like this?
A: I was leafing through our strategic planning book for 2006. One of the threats to teams was club sports and AAU basketball. One of those recommendations was to ban schools from allowing club sports from using their facilities. That’s part of the picture, too. You wonder how many schools are making their facilities available to non-school sporting events that have been identified as being threats to the very thing that they’re trying to control. I don’t know that answer, but those are things that are just feeding the problem.
Q: Will there be any retribution by the OHSAA to Toliver?
A: We really don’t have a say in matters of employment. That’s a matter between the school, the Ohio Department of Education. To a degree the current certification of coaches does help with that.
Q: What’s in place to educate coaches, players and parents about incidents like this?
A: We mandate that all head coaches participate in an online course that’s interactive and very good. It is front and center and it addresses these very things. We also require schools to have a mandatory preseason meeting for their athletes. We give them templates for their agendas. Do they listen? Welcome to education.
Q: Could the suspension have been more than two games?
A: Keep in mind, the rule permits up to an entire season of ineligibility. We’ve accepted in all our sports a two-for-one when this happens. Two games (suspension) for every time you do it. Because of the schools’ diligence and self-reporting, it’s why I’m permitted to make it just two games.
Q: Is it as simple as the OHSAA vs. anything non-OHSAA?
A: The No. 1 underlying issue is we all paint everything that’s non-school with the same brush and call it AAU. It’s really unfair to say that. Actually, AAU is pretty well organized. AAU requires certification of coaches, background checks as does (Junior Olympic) volleyball.
The bigger issue lies in all of the non-school sports. They’re not held to any rules or set standards. I would question in a lot of cases the (basketball) tournaments that you see on Saturdays in March, April and May. How many coaches have background checks? How many (coaches) have any certification let alone what’s required by law on concussion certification? And where is the money going that people are paying to not only participate but also to even try out for some of those teams? We have zero jurisdictions over them.
Q: Are non-school teams a good thing?
A: What an irony it is. Why do they exist? They were developed to develop athletes to be better for their school teams. They’ve since taken a path that’s a little different than that. I’m not sure that’s their ultimate goal anymore. They’re just fueling the sports craze appetite in the United States by making things available.
Q: Can the OHSAA take any action against non-school programs?
A: I just received a request today that we should ban any school coach from involvement in AAU. No. 1, I’m not sure legally that we can do that. We can’t deny someone an employment opportunity. There’s also been a push to open up our coaches’ ability to work in that environment. To infuse more of our coaches who we think are good and have training, have certification and are licensed to help working with kids. It’s an irony to see both sides of that.