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Editorial: Nobody wins in Pembroke basketball brinkmanship

The governing body of New Hampshire high school sports and officials at Pembroke Academy have turned the controversy over the school’s basketball team into an adult argument about a boys’ game. It is the young basketball players who stand to pay the price, and that’s a pity.

In a byzantine sequence of events, Pembroke Academy, the Division II state champion in boys’ basketball, successfully applied to move up to Division I. A committee of Division I athletic directors and principals under the auspices of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association then declined to schedule any games for Pembroke. That leaves the Spartans with no one to play for the 2014-15 season.

What kind of a process leads to an outcome like that? The association’s first responsibility is to give the kids a chance to play. Punishing them for the perceived problems with the Pembroke basketball program is wrong.

Pat Corbin, director of the association, washed his hands of the decision. He’s “not involved,” he said, and has “no control” over the matter. In its letter to Pembroke officials, the principals and athletic directors’ committee was firm in its decision but vague about its reasoning.

Public school, public issue, secret process.

As for Pembroke school officials, they haven’t put the kids’ best interests at the forefront either.

The suspicion that Pembroke is using a father-son relationship to recruit top basketball talent has been around for years. The athletic association committee gave the school a chance to show that it had a plan in place to ensure strict adherence to school transfer and residency requirements. The committee says the school dropped the ball.

In defending the basketball program, Pembroke’s headmaster referred to the families of two recent transfers – both tall basketball players who played AAU ball – as coming from families that were “falling apart” and “in distress.” This is not information a headmaster should make public.

In general, the school’s position has been to defend its program and practices rather than get serious about enacting tough policies on transfers that will end the suspicion about recruiting once and for all.

There’s still time for the adults involved to sit down and resolve this situation. The state association has approved the Pembroke basketball team’s elevation to Division I, and it must now see to it that the boys have a chance to play at that level next year. Corbin, the association director, can’t just dodge the issue by saying it’s not up to him. He needs to lead, putting the student-athletes first.

And it’s time for Pembroke and its boys’ basketball program to face the music. Maybe, when it comes to the allegations of recruiting, everyone else is wrong and Pembroke’s defenders are right. Usually that isn’t the way things turn out.

For the school officials who control Pembroke basketball’s immediate future, the perception that Pembroke is recruiting has become the reality. Five AAU players have transferred to Pembroke since 2011. The school must interpret the transfer and residency policies of the state association to the letter. It must avoid even the appearance that the AAU basketball team feeds players to Pembroke Academy. And it must document its strict adherence to the rules.

It's young players who stand to pay the price because they don't get the chance to represent their high school because a transfer takes their spot on the team. Peter Welch

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