Already in a dire position with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, Dayton Public Schools athletics took another hard hit when Dunbar was removed from the boys basketball tournament on Wednesday for using an ineligble player in Monday's game vs. Thurgood Marshall.
Thurgood Marshall, which Dunbar had beaten in a Division II sectional semifinal on Monday, was reinserted into the tourney in Dunbar’s place and will play Fenwick in a D-II sectional final at the University of Dayton Arena on Sunday.
The infraction stems from a Jan. 10 boys basketball scuffle between Dunbar and visiting Thurgood Marshall during a JV game. Several members from both teams left the bench area. Doing that constitutes a mandatory two-game suspension as required by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
OHSAA Commissioner Dr. Dan Rosssaid DPS did not respond to multiple attempts of communication over the last two months about the suspensions. The final of seven attempts was noon Wednesday.
At least seven Thurgood players sat out the required two games, but only one Dunbar player did so. The OHSAA ruled that any game the other involved Dunbar players — it cited seven in all — participated in will be forfeited, regular season, tournament or both. Also, those players must eventually serve two-game suspensions to begin next season should they continue to play basketball at Dunbar or elsewhere.
“Thurgood Marshall did exactly what you are supposed to do,” Dr. Ross said on Thursday. “It’s really puzzling when you’re in the same district and you have one (school) that did absolutely perfect what they were supposed to do and the other did not. We don’t know the reasons for any of the pieces behind it.”
On Thursday, DPS acting superintendent Elizabeth Lolli joined several DPS school board members, including newly elected president William Harris, in a hastily called news conference and refuted OHSAA’s decision to dismiss Dunbar from the tournament.
“DPS takes exception to the OHSAA ruling and we are investigating the facts surrounding this incident,” Lolli said. “We're taking a firm stance about whatever comes out of this. We're going to be strong in whatever we do in response to whatever we find after this investigation is over.”
Lolli would not address if any administrator, including DPS director of athletics Mark Baker, had been placed on administrative leave. She also wouldn’t say if DPS might pursue a legal course of action to get Dunbar back into the tourney. Nor would she answer any questions about the OHSAA’s claim of failure to communicate. She did say more information from DPS would be announced on Friday.
Last spring the OHSAA placed the entire DPS boys and girls athletic programs - middle school and high school — on a three-year watch, fined the school district $10,000 and required key personnel to attend additional administration training.
It was believed to be the most severe penalty and affected the most schools in the 100-plus year history of the OHSAA. The urban school district consists of six high schools: Belmont, Dunbar, Meadowdale, Ponitz, Stivers and Thurgood.
That penalty was the result of the final football regular-season game between Dunbar and Belmont in the 2016 season. Baker was accused of instructing Dunbar to lose. Had that happened, it was hoped both Dunbar and Belmont would qualify for the playoffs. Instead, it caused a catastrophic fallout of forfeits, a resignation, a reshuffling of playoff-qualifying teams and launched an OHSAA investigation.
The OHSAA said it would return $2,500 of the fine to DPS and end the watch after two years if no other infractions occurred. If there were more penalties, OHSAA proposed the extreme option of revoking membership.
“We had certainly hoped that after the football piece that, OK, let’s hold people accountable and let’s fix what we’ve got going on here,” Dr. Ross said. “And now you come to Round 2.”
Dr. Ross said he expects to address this with DPS officials after the boys basketball season.
“It is a conversation we need to have and will have,” he said. “We never want to remove a team from the tournament, but the school’s inability to follow proper procedure and communicate is disturbing. We are disappointed that the school could not follow through with our repeated attempts to bring a resolution to this matter in the last seven weeks.”
More regular-season forfeits could cost Dunbar to lose an outright Dayton City League championship. If that happens, Belmont will be crowned the champ.
This is the first season for Chuck Taylor to serve as Dunbar's boys basketball coach. He landed the position when former Wolverines coach Pete Pullen was not retained after 14 seasons in which the Wolverines won four D-II state titles and advanced to the final four in two other years.
“I don’t know if it’s a feeling of excitement or whatnot,” Thurgood coach Shawn McCullough said on Wednesday night. “It’s unfortunate. Chuck Taylor is a really good guy and Dunbar’s program is a Dayton, Ohio, staple. It’s an Ohio staple. People know Dunbar.”
Thurgood (9-13) will play Fenwick (17-6) in a D-II sectional final at 2 p.m. Sunday at the UD Arena. Alter (10-14) will play Chaminade Julienne (10-14) in the second game of the doubleheader at 3:30 p.m. The winners advance to next week’s D-II district finals, also at UD.