Toeing the line on high school recruits? Gwynn Lake's use of underage players, scholarships questioned

March 05, 1997|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Officials at Gwynn Lake Prep apparently have violated their league's rules against recruiting by offering scholarships to girls basketball players.

In interviews with The Sun, four athletes and their families said they were ap- proached by either Gwynn Lake athletic director Donchez Graham or girls basketball coach Roland Hall and offered scholarships to play basketball at the school.

Gwynn Lake has been an instant success, going 27-4 and reaching No. 5 in The Sun's rankings in its first season. But because of the controversy surrounding the program, eight teams forfeited a total of 10 games rather than play the Lakers.

The private school in Woodlawn, which opened two years ago, is supported by the New Destiny Christian Center. As a member of the Christian Schools Athletic Association (CSAA), it is prohibited from recruiting students for athletics.

CSAA president Bob Topp said the league recently concluded its investigation of the allegations of recruiting at Gwynn Lake.

"We've had three meetings with their people," Topp said. "No action will be taken because the evidence is inconclusive. It's basically one person's word against another's."

The CSAA is disbanding after this season, and Gwynn Lake will play an independent schedule next season.

Said Gwynn Lake principal Dr. Marion Spann: "Obviously, there is a lot of jealousy. People may think because we have a dynamic team right now -- and it's really a miracle -- that we have concentrated on athletics, but it's been coincidental. I don't even look upon this controversy as being a problem. I'm thankful to God that it's happened because good or bad, it's exposure for the school. It's free advertisement."

Gwynn Lake opponents also have called into question the team's use of underage players. The school, which has 68 students in grades 4 through 12, has an independent study curriculum that can allow students to accelerate to classes above their chronological age. Gwynn Lake has three players who are classified as ninth-graders who would be eighth- or seventh-graders at other schools. Younger players, because of their experience in AAU competition, often can be ready for varsity play before their freshman years.

"They are exploiting young girls just to win basketball games," said Western coach Breezy Bishop.

It is not against CSAA rules to use players who are younger than a typical high school freshman, and the league doesn't have any limit as to the number of years a player is eligible to compete. By contrast, the state public schools athletic association and the Catholic League do not permit athletes to compete for more than four years.

Recruiting allegations

The CSAA does have clear rules against recruiting, rules that athletic director Graham and coach Hall apparently violated in contacts with four area players before this season.

Nevin Caple, a 6-1 junior who plays for Lutheran, was approached by Graham at a McDonald's restaurant over the summer, said her mother, Pam. Nevin had just finished playing in AAU game and was still wearing her uniform.

"He said they had a school that was starting a girls basketball team, and he asked her to come and visit," Pam Caple said. "We went to the school and got a tour. They offered Nevin a scholarship to go to the school."

Graham recounted the meeting with Nevin Caple in similar detail.

"It was the strangest thing," Graham said. "I saw her in McDonald's, and we just started talking. I didn't know she played basketball, and we just started talking about school and what she was looking for and I told her about Gwynn Lake."

Although he said he didn't know she played basketball, Graham later acknowledged that "I think she was wearing a uniform." Graham also said: "But this was not a recruiting situation. I wasn't even the AD when I met her."

Leslie Caple, Nevin's sister, is a sophomore at Lutheran. She also was offered a scholarship to play basketball at Gwynn Lake, her mother said. Pam Caple said the offer was made by Graham and Gwynn Lake vice principal Hugo Silberberg.

Ultimately, Pam Caple decided not to enroll her daughters at Gwynn Lake.

"It was a new school with no track record that we felt comfortable with," she said.

Lake Clifton freshman Tyeasha Smith, a good friend of Gwynn Lake's standout sophomore guard Jimea Barner, said she was competing in a fall recreational league in Essex when she was contacted by Graham and Hall, who offered her a scholarship. Smith will leave Lake Clifton after this year and enroll at Gwynn Lake, said her mother, Jacqueline Lewis.

St. Frances sophomore Chanaea Moore said she was approached by Graham while playing in the same Essex recreational league. A scholarship to a private school piqued the interest of Moore's mother, Cynthia Rogers-Swann, but that interest faded quickly after a telephone conversation with Graham.

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