Behind the Mic: Recruiting – At Its Worst

The word “recruiting” in high school sports is certainly a derogatory term.  Schools who feel victimized believe another institution has invaded their territory to grab one of their finest athletes in order to make their own team stronger.  Both public and private schools have been accused of “recruiting”.  Private schools can be a bit more open with the practice because, by their very nature, they “recruit” in order to populate their institutions.  They have the advantage of bringing students in from public school territory and, often, enhancing their athletic teams at the expense of a home district.  There’s no blame here.  It’s just the way it is and the governing body of high school athletics, the PIAA, has decided it is not worth the effort or the expense to dispute these transfers in court.  It is very hard to prove allegations especially when parents choose to send their child to a private school or they find a way to establish residence in a geographical area.  “Recruiting” occurs and even though it is disdained, very little can be done to stop it.

This leads me to focus on two private schools in Philadelphia – Neumann-Goretti and Archbishop Wood.  It would not be a stretch to say these schools are two of the nation’s leaders in recruiting athletes.  Neumann-Goretti is currently ranked #1 in the nation in girls’ basketball.  Let that sink in – the very best in the nation!  They are currently beating their opponents by an average of 45 points a game.

Archbishop Wood has perennially been one of the best girls’ basketball teams in the state and in the nation.  Wood won three straight state championships from 2009-12 and has been to the state finals in three of the last four years.  They do not like the spotlight shifting to Neumann-Goretti. So the two are caught up in a recruiting firestorm!

One of the best players on the Goretti team is Christina Aborowa, a senior who came from Ondo, Nigeria.  On the day in November that Aborowa signed her letter of intent to play at the University of Texas, an email addressed to the Texas coach and athletic director arrived alleging that Aborowa was in the country illegally and that she was older than the age listed.  The email also alleged that her teammate, Felicia Aiyeotan, a 6’9” junior, was illegal and overage.  The email was sent with a fictitious name and was also supposedly sent to other colleges to discourage them from recruiting Aiyeotan.  Goretti was accused of cheating and the email implied that the FBI was looking into the case.

A Philadelphia newspaper, Philly Voice, investigated and concluded the email came from the Archbishop Wood head coach.  He had issued a “no comment” response when asked about the allegations, but has since resigned according to the Philadelphia Daily News.  The Archdiocese investigated the paperwork on the two girls and concluded that the girls are here “legitimately”.

The Bethlehem Catholic girls’ basketball team, a target in the past of recruiting allegations themselves, is in the midst of trying to win their third straight District XI basketball championship.  They are a very talented team.  State rankings have the Golden Hawks ranked as high as #2 in the state.  There is a good possibility if they are successful in the state playoffs that they could eventually meet up with Archbishop Wood, the #1 ranked team in AAA.  The Hawks could be problematic for Wood, but certainly not as problematic as the firestorm facing the Archbishop program at the moment.  Stay tuned!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I sat in the stands this past Sunday for the Lafayette at Lehigh game. I rarely sit in the stands, since I can usually sit at the press table, even when I am not broadcasting.  My wife and daughter wanted to attend the game, so I sat with them.  It did not take me long to realize how bad some fans can be and the vitriolic nature of their disdain for another team or player. I don’t get it.  I’ll take press row seats anytime.
  2. One of the positive developments sitting in the stands Sunday was getting to know the parents of Dan Trist, Lafayette’s outstanding center and the leading scorer in the Patriot League. Even though Dan’s a senior, I had never met his parents because they were watching Dan’s first LIVE Lafayette game.  Clive and Helga Trist live in Sydney, Australia and have only been able to watch Dan play through our broadcasts on the internet.  They were sure having fun.  Every time Dan scored, Helga waved a full-sized Australian flag!
  3. I attended Wilson High School and played football, basketball, and baseball. I grew up being exposed to some of the great feats of Wilson Warrior athletics.  An anniversary of one such feat occurred this past week. On February 24, 1955, Wilson’s Cal Vogel scored 90 points in one basketball game and tied the state single-game record of Wilt Chamberlain.  Wilson won 95-52 over Pen Argyl.  Amazing!
  4. Toot! Toot!  That’s the sound we announcers make in jest to one another when we are praising ourselves.  I am going to do just that.  I watched our District XI wrestling coverage on Saturday night.  Scott Barr and Jim Best are outstanding announcers.  They are our RCN experts and they are the best.  Toot!  Toot!
  5. I saw J. K. Simmons’ Academy Award winning performance in Whiplash recently. He plays a music teacher who abuses all of his students, and one, a young jazz drummer, even more so.  It can be uncomfortable to watch.  It reminded me of some coaches I have seen over the years.

Behind the Mic: “The Best ‘Recruit’ of the Year”

Say the word “recruit” or “recruiting” in the Lehigh Valley and get ready for an argument. Whether it’s football, basketball, or wrestling (and even baseball a few years ago), the term riles up athletic directors, coaches, athletes, and parents. Everyone has an opinion on what should determine the eligibility of any student who “transferred” or was “recruited” to another school for athletic reasons. I will leave this volatile subject up to the powers-to-be and I wish them well in finding a solution, if there is one to be found.

I want to talk about the best use of “recruiting” I have seen in my many years of doing high school sports. It came in the final game of the season for the Nazareth Blue Eagles basketball team when they played in their rivalry game against Northampton. For that last game, they added a player to their roster, not only to help them win, but in a way, to help all of us to understand the value of athletics and the value of working with young people.

Joe Arndt, the Nazareth coach, decided to add Devon Roe to his roster. Devon had tried out for the team in the fall, but despite all the encouragement he got from his fellow teammates, he just could not crack the roster.

You see, Devon Roe is a special-needs student who was supposed to be in a wheelchair by the time he was a teenager. However, Devon is not in a wheelchair and spent this past season serving as the Nazareth manager for the basketball team. He dutifully fulfilled his responsibilities for the first 20 games. Devon has many disorders including autism and OCD.

Friday was Senior Night and Coach Arndt felt it would be the perfect opportunity to do some “recruiting” of his own. He “recruited” Devon. Devon wore number 32 and was placed in the starting lineup. There were no protests from Northampton or their coach, Coy Stampone, who, ironically, was an assistant to Coach Arndt for many years. The District XI and the PIAA would not get involved in this case.

Devon led his team onto the floor for warm-ups, received a resounding standing ovation from the fans when he was introduced as a member of the starting lineup, and caught the opening tap. He quickly left the floor. He would re-enter the contest for the final six seconds.

His mother spent most of the day in tears and cried throughout the night. She has watched Devon overcome so much adversity in his life. He participates in the Nazareth job-study program and she sends him off to work at Petco and Giant a few days a week. She has had, I’m sure, many proud moments with her son, but Friday night was certainly a special one.

Congratulations to the coaches, the administration, and especially the players for teaching all of us a valuable lesson about rewarding hard work, teamwork, and compassion. And I offer special congratulations to Devon. He did what the coach asked, did not complain about playing time, and basked in the victory of his teammates.

This is the type of player every coach should recruit. It would help all of us!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. I notice that it always takes me some time to get into the Olympics and this year is no exception. Having grown up during the Cold War, where we spent Health Class in high school learning to build a bomb shelter and going through our decision to boycott the Russian Olympics during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, I feel some resentment toward Putin as I watch him. I’m sure I will get over it. By the end of this week, I’ll be chanting, “USA! USA!” along with the rest of you.
2. By the way, there are 12 more events (98 in all) than there were at Vancouver.
3. Sochi this time of the year has an average temperature of 43 degrees making this the warmest site for a Winter Games. The Super Bowl in cold weather; the Winter Olympics in warm weather? Someone will somehow correlate this to global warming!
4. I watched the final Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Thursday. It was quite good and Jay was very emotional. I have always been a Letterman fan and never found Leno to be all that funny. Ironically, I saw him at the Sands a few months back and his stand-up routine was hilarious. He will now do more of that and I would certainly go to see him.
5. The Beatles 50-year anniversary of their appearance in America was, also, quite good. Ringo and Paul McCartney were at their best. The Ed Sullivan clips brought back memories of watching them that night. I think everybody watched. I was a senior in high school. (And I’m feeling quite old right now! Time for a nap.)