OHSAA officials could not immediately be reached for comment on whether they would appeal. Barring that, Dunbar is now scheduled to play Middletown Fenwick in a sectional final game at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Last week, the OHSAA had disqualified Dunbar from the tournament, saying the team used an ineligible player in its Feb. 23 tournament opener. Another Dayton Public School, Thurgood Marshall, was put in Dunbar’s place.
But Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Krumholtz overruled that move by OHSAA, granting a preliminary injunction and saying the state group made a mistake.
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“We’re very happy for the students at Dunbar High School, that they’re going to be able to be able to play in the tournament game. We feel that the students deserve that opportunity, and we’re happy with the judgment,” said acting DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli. “We want to make sure we send a strong message about accountability and responsibility. We expect that our administrators and our ADs at all levels follow the rules and know the rules, and make sure that we enforce the rules because we only hurt our student athletes if we do not.”
She would not comment on whether district AD Mark Baker or other staff had been disciplined as a result of this case. The Dayton Daily News has filed public records requests regarding DPS’ investigation into the situation.
All down to one question
For all the drama over whether OHSAA is treating Dunbar High School with “spite and ill will” as the school board claims … or whether Dunbar leaders showed “abject disregard” for their responsibilities to act, as OHSAA claimed, the case largely came down to one question.
Was one particular Dunbar basketball player — a juvenile whom this news outlet is naming only as “John Doe” — among the players who left the team bench area during a Jan. 10 junior varsity game fight against Thurgood Marshall?
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Leaving the team bench during a fight is a violation of national and OHSAA rules, triggering a two-game suspension. The player would be ineligible until he has served the two-game suspension.
Both sides agreed that the player in question participated in that Jan. 10 JV game, never served a suspension tied to that game, and later appeared in Dunbar’s postseason tournament opener. If “John Doe” played in a tournament game while ineligible, Dunbar would be removed from the tournament, as they were last week.
But Brian Wildermuth, the attorney representing Dayton’s school board, argued that OHSAA conducted a “shoddy” investigation, pointing out that no one could identify the particular player as being on the bench in the game video.
Wildermuth also established that Dunbar’s scorebook lists 13 players for that JV game, including John Doe, meaning eight players would be on the bench. But OHSAA’s ruling punishing the district cites seven Dunbar players “whom we were able to identify … after review of the videotape.”
Dunbar varsity coach Chuck Taylor testified that when he was coming out of the locker room to deal with the in-progress melee on the court, the player in question passed him in the hallway to the locker room, going the other direction – raising the question of whether he had already left the bench before the fight happened.
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Dunbar JV coach Donnovan Brown testified that he didn’t know whether the player was on the bench at the time the fight began.
OHSAA officials testified that game video shows all players on Dunbar’s bench leaving the bench when the fight occurred. It is clear to anyone watching the video that some of those bench players ran into the fight and actively participated in it.
Steven Craig, the attorney representing the OHSAA, did show that bench players sitting out of the camera frame run onto the court.
The OHSAA also raised a legal precedent questioning the court’s power to overrule its decisions. They pointed to a 1962 Ohio Supreme Court ruling on the OHSAA that “decisions … with respect to its internal affairs will, in the absence of mistake, fraud, collusion or arbitrariness, be accepted by the courts as conclusive.”
Judge gives reasoning
Krumholtz ruled that the OHSAA had, in fact, made a mistake. He wrote that “Upon a thorough review of the video from the January 10, 2018 brawl, the Court counts five players on the court, and at most, seven on the Dunbar bench at the time the fight broke out.”
But during the hearing, neither side stopped the video and advanced it frame-by-frame to do a headcount of the number of players coming off the bench to see if it was clear whether that number was seven or eight. The video is not extremely crisp, and the end of the bench near the baseline is not visible in the frame.
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Krumholtz writes that Taylor, who is a Dayton Municipal Court bailiff, provided an “unrefuted explanation” for the whereabouts of the key 13th player, John Doe. Taylor testified that he saw John Doe in the locker room hallway as he went out to the ongoing melee.
“Coach Taylor can be seen in the videos exiting the Dunbar locker room area,” Krumholtz wrote. “The Court did not observe any player head into the locker room from the beginning of the video, which starts shortly before the commission of the “hard foul,” until Coach Taylor appears. Thus, as Coach Taylor testified, John Doe was already in the locker room hallway before the fight broke out.”