Dunbar tournament forfeit sparks fight between Dayton schools, state

A group of district leaders, including Dayton Public Schools Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and school board President William Harris, said Thursday night that they objected to the OHSAA’s decision to remove Dunbar from the boys basketball postseason tournament. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

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A group of district leaders, including Dayton Public Schools Acting Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli and school board President William Harris, said Thursday night that they objected to the OHSAA’s decision to remove Dunbar from the boys basketball postseason tournament. JEREMY P. KELLEY / STAFF

Dayton Public Schools on Friday asked a local judge to put the Dunbar High School boys basketball team back in the state postseason tournament, two days after the Ohio High School Athletic Association kicked them out for using an ineligible player.

The sectional final game that had been scheduled for Sunday between Middletown Fenwick and Thurgood Marshall — the team that replaced Dunbar in the bracket — has now been postponed until Wednesday because of Dayton’s court challenge.

RELATED: OHSAA calls handling of Dunbar issue “puzzling”

The DPS request for a preliminary injunction, which alleges the OHSAA acted out of spite, will be heard at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday before Judge Michael Krumholtz of the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. It is unclear what will happen to the tournament schedule involving multiple teams if the court does not issue a ruling Tuesday.

The OHSAA said Dunbar failed to suspend seven players the requisite two games for leaving the bench during a fight in the Jan. 10 regular-season junior varsity game against Thurgood Marshall. One of those players, named only as “John Doe” in DPS’ court filing, then played in the Dunbar varsity’s tournament opener against West Carrollton on Feb. 23.

OHSAA’s Wednesday letter to Dunbar Principal Crystal Phillips was harsh in its criticism.

RELATED: DPS doing own investigation of Dunbar issue

“The problems that have come to light in this matter are exacerbated by Dunbar administration and coaches’ total lack of communications with this office and its abject disregard of the duties and responsibilities they have as members (of the OHSAA),” the letter from Executive Director Dan Ross said.

DPS pushed back in its lawsuit, claiming the “John Doe” player did not go on the court during the fight, but went to the locker room to prepare for the varsity game, since he played on both teams.

The lawsuit, filed by outside counsel Brian Wildermuth, said that OHSAA’s ruling is “without either factual or legal basis” and that its conclusions are “motivated by spite, ill will, and/or a desire to do harm to DPS and Dunbar High School students.”

RELATED: Thurgood Marshall replaces Dunbar in bracket

There is history here. Last spring, the OHSAA placed all DPS schools on an unprecedented three years of probation after a bizarre football situation in which Dunbar used an ineligible player in a regular-season game, then briefly tried to purposely lose that game, thinking it could help DPS’ playoff chances.

That probation is still ongoing, and it called for further penalties — up to loss of OHSAA membership — for further infractions.

“We have to get through the tournament, then the OHSAA will meet with Dunbar and DPS administration to determine where the additional sanctions will fall,” OHSAA spokesman Tim Stried said Friday. “We’re just not ready at this point to say what the additional penalties will be, but there will be (penalties).”

APRIL 2017: All DPS schools get 3 years of OHSAA probation

DPS’ lawsuit argues that OHSAA has not required other schools to suspend players who left the bench during an altercation if the game official did not eject or cite the player. In this case, the altercation happened with 4.4 seconds left in the game, and the officials declared the game over.

Official Dwight Stargell did file an “ejection report” that was sent to Dunbar via the OHSAA portal. But it does not name specific players as being ejected. The report ends with this, “Before the varsity game began, I spoke with both Dunbar and Thurgood coaches, they have to remove any players that was going to play in the varsity game that just played in the JV game” – the procedure that would normally follow an ejection.

That appears to have led to confusion over which players were ejected, according to the DPS lawsuit. But OHSAA’s letter to Dunbar points out that national high school rules say any player leaving the bench during a fight is automatically ejected.

RELATED: DPS, OHSAA disagreed on blame for Dunbar football fiasco

OHSAA officials also pointed out that the seven Thurgood Marshall players who left the bench in that Jan. 10 fight – players in the same district under the same athletic director, Mark Baker – all served two-game suspensions.

“I would be really interested to know what Thurgood Marshall thinks about all this,” Stried said. “We have two DPS schools here, and you have DPS filing an injunction on behalf of one of its member schools that could hurt another member school.”

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