The Record’s terrific 2-part series two weeks ago about our local high-school basketball team and their habit of cutting huge numbers of classes, should be nominated for a Pulitzer in the local initiative reporting category.
Justin Rodriguez, one of our many stellar sports reporters, decided to look up the members of our 2009 state-championship team and find out, “Where Are They Now?” The answer was: They’re nowhere. Three never graduated, nor did one from last year’s team. One is in an in-patient mental hospital, having become totally divorced from Reality (although Reality apparently won occasional-visitation rights); one stands all day behind the counter of a Kennedy Fried Chicken franchise (imagine a store whose food is about two cuts greasier and less healthy than Kentucky Fried Chicken’s, and you’re there); one hangs out at the church gym where he learned how to shoot hoops, and watches the little kids play; one smokes dope and drinks on the streets. They’re all trying to get their GEDs, but not having any luck at it.
One, the only white kid, who put them into the 2009 finals with a 50-foot heave-ho at the buzzer that has been immortalized by a video on the Record’s website, did indeed graduate, with a basketball scholarship to a Division II college, and attended that college for a bit, before deciding he really wanted to be an actor. He gave up his scholarship and transferred to Pepperdine University in California and, as a sophomore, already has been in two “B” movies.
But Justin followed up with the four non-grads and found that they all admitted to going to precious few classes while they played hoops for NFA. They courageously took responsibility for their own dumb decision to cut classes, but they also mentioned that this woman named Bunce, an assistant principal at NFA, let them do it; in fact, they spent a lot of “class-time” just hanging out in her office. God only knows what they did there.
Along with one of the stories we ran a photo of Bunce — you can almost hear her squealing with delight — just after she had run out onto the court after one of NFA’s late-season victories, hugging one of the players. (Not the white guy.)
In the series, the boys said Bunce knew about all of their cutting, and one said she routinely deleted the records of their cuts from the school’s computer. The implication was, she was such a “basketball groupie” that she won these boys’ friendship by letting them do whatever they wanted to, instead of insisting they go to class.
In other words, she sabotaged their lives and their futures by enabling them to learn NOTHING during their high-school years. The head basketball coach, who was quoted as spewing some bullshit statement like, “We worked our butts off for these guys,” was also implicated by players saying they didn’t understand how he could NOT have known about their cutting of classes; but at least one kid said he was unsure if the coach knew or not.
Here’s the thing: If he didn’t know, he is not only the dumbest but also the most uncaring basketball coach in the history of high-school sports. I have never forgotten a quote from him a few years ago (i guess it was right after the championship season) that stuck with me: He said, “I don’t even want to know” what their home lives are like. Of course, if he’d ask, anyone could tell him what their lives off the court are like: NFA basketball players mostly live here in the ‘hood, with no fathers; a mom with several “boyfriends”; no money; no books, magazines, or newspapers in the home; younger siblings to take care of, and with violent, drug-dealing gangs in and around all their apartment-buildings.
The series raised a firestorm of reaction and the Niagara Falls school that NFA beat in the 2009 championship game is demanding that our trophy be yanked and the record be changed to note that several of the NFA players on the team that beat them were academically ineligible to play.
The series was made even better by Kevin Gleason’s supporting column, noting, basically, that it was the adults in their lives who were responsible for these players’ sad situations today.
But pathetically, our mealy-mouthed, tsk-tsk-ing editorial on the matter, instead of demanding, “Bounce Bunce!” just said words to the effect, “Gee, look how kids these days skip classes, and how their parents let them get away with it. Kids that cut classes are bad.”
Other than that giant let-down, the entire series was just perfect investigative journalism, uncovering a scandal that has been occurring in thousands of high-schools (AND colleges) since Fonzie roamed the halls. More investigations are in the works (our local NAACP is conducting its own) and you can be sure that, because of these stories, all schools in this region (and hopefully, beyond) are cracking down on letting athletes get away with cutting classes.
Boo for our unhelpful editorial, but hooray for J-Rod and Gleason!