Pembroke Academy boys’ basketball faces backlash, no schedule
Principals and athletic directors statewide, concerned that Pembroke Academy has violated rules to build its championship boys’ basketball program, say they won’t play the team next season, leaving Pembroke with no schedule and continuing the longtime view that the school recruits players.
Meanwhile, at a recent meeting, Pembroke Headmaster Mike Reardon said an athletic director gave him advice on how to bring Pembroke back into the fold: Dismiss the head coach, Matt Alosa.
“I asked what they thought we should do,” Reardon said yesterday. “At some point, an athletic director said, ‘You need to fire Matt Alosa.’ ”
Reardon and Tom Serafin, the school board chairman, said yesterday they stand by Alosa and have no intention of letting him go.
Alosa’s father, Frank Alosa, coaches the Concord-based AAU Granite State Raiders, an elite program for students of all ages that draws talent from across the state.
Critics have long maintained that the Raiders program serves as a feeder system to the Pembroke roster, funneling players from father to son against the rules.
In fact, last season two transfers were not permitted to join Pembroke’s boys’ team after Pat Corbin, director of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, ruled they had not complied with guidelines defining residency.
Emotions in some circles run so high that no one scheduled games against Pembroke – which successfully petitioned to move to Division I next season following its second straight Division II title – after a meeting earlier this month.
There, Reardon and Suzanne Klink, Pembroke’s athletic director, met with the Division I group, which was worried about Pembroke’s past and wanted a plan submitted to show how the school would prevent ineligible athletes from playing for Matt Alosa.
The group consisted of about 40 principals and athletic directors, all of whom met at the NHIAA headquarters in Concord. A partition was taken down to accommodate the large number of people, Reardon said.
“It was very uncomfortable, to say the least,” Reardon said. “Nothing asked was unfair. It was just very superficial.”
Reardon sent a copy of his proposal to the Monitor. It includes an application asking for transfer students’ past co-curricular activities and interests in future programs.
Players, plus their parents, who list boys’ basketball will be asked to meet with school officials. Utility companies and leasing agents will be contacted if questions about residency surface.
The D-I group was not satisfied, and it said so in a letter sent to Reardon and Klink last Thursday.
“After hearing your plan and hearing what you said in the meeting,” the letter read, “we still have the same concerns and feel strongly that the letter and the spirit of the NHIAA rules in these matters are not being followed.
“At this time, we have decided the Division I schedule for the 2014-15 winter boys’ basketball season will not include Pembroke Academy.”
The letter was signed by Tim Powers, the athletic director at Pinkerton Academy and the president of the Division I Principals and Athletic Directors.
The organization is a subset of the NHIAA, the governing body of high school sports in New Hampshire.
Reached yesterday by phone, Powers said he would not elaborate on the committee’s reasons for excluding Pembroke, saying, “We still had concerns. We met and discussed it all, and our discussion with Pembroke Academy is not something we’re going to share.”
Asked whether an athletic director had suggested that Matt Alosa be fired, Powers said, “I don’t recall. What they decide with their own coaching staff is up to them.”
Reached yesterday, Alosa said, “The allegations are unfounded, and we have nothing to hide.”
NHIAA rules state that students must establish a proper residency in their new school zone to be eligible to play.
“A residence is defined as the place where the student’s parents have established their permanent home,” the NHIAA handbook states. “This means that the family regularly eats and sleeps in a specific place of lodging.”
The rule also states that a student who transfers schools for athletic purposes – that is, to play for a certain team or coach – must sit out a year, even if the family meets the residency requirement.
The rule is in place to reinforce the notion that academics come first, not athletics, and moving to a different school to learn a jump shot will have consequences.
Near the start of last season, the rule was put to the test. Reardon, knowing sparks would fly once word got out that two tall students, both AAU players who competed at their previous high schools, were attending Pembroke, notified the NHIAA and conducted his own investigation.
His report to the NHIAA concluded that the students had moved within the Pembroke School District’s boundaries and followed proper protocol.
But Corbin looked into the matter and disagreed. Both players were declared ineligible and had to sit out the season.
Pembroke “looked into it and filed and I remained unconvinced there was not a violation,” Corbin said. “I felt there was still an issue with residency.”
Two appeals boards, both serving under the jurisdiction of the NHIAA, denied Pembroke’s appeal, leaving the two players to sit behind the bench as the Spartans marched to their second straight championship.
Reardon backed his findings yesterday. He said both players had established legal residences, and neither moved into the district specifically to play ball, although they had played AAU under Frank Alosa and knew Matt well.
Reardon said the scenario was far more complex than merely kids seeking a first-rate basketball program.
“Both boys and their families were breaking up,” Reardon said. “Their parents, mom and dad, looked around and said, ‘My life is falling apart and I have to move someplace. Where do my kids know someone so they’re not going to an unfamiliar place?’ ”
“They moved in part because they knew kids on the Raiders, but they moved because their families were falling apart. It was an easier transition. The families were in distress.”
Another controversy erupted near the start of the 2011-12 season. The Monitor learned that the NHIAA had asked Pembroke to conduct an investigation after Corbin said he had received enough complaints about the AAU-Pembroke connection to raise red flags.
At the time, four players with AAU ties, each of whom had played ball in school districts outside Pembroke at various times in their lives, were playing for Matt Alosa at Pembroke.
Corbin accepted Reardon’s report, that there was no evidence of recruiting violations, but the seeds had been planted that something unethical was unfolding in Pembroke.
The next step
Matt Alosa defends his program by using numbers to show the issue has been overblown. He said after eight years of coaching at Pembroke, the number of players who have moved into the area after playing for his father in AAU ball is “minimal.”
“The number of kids who’ve moved to town before high school is I think like five players in my eight years here,” Alosa said. “The kids are getting advice from someone other than me, and I would not ask kids and parents to move to my town for basketball.”
Still, much of the criticism throughout the conflict has been aimed at Frank Alosa, whose fiery and outspoken nature have left many with a bad taste in their mouths.
“Pat Corbin is fantasizing about finding that Frank Alosa is directing kids to go to Pembroke Academy to play for Matt,” Frank Alosa said during the flare-up earlier this year. “We’re never going to tell you or anyone else to go play here.”
In fact, Corbin said he’s not involved this time. The Division I Principals and Athletic Directors map out schedules for D-I teams, and it felt Pembroke did not belong.
“I’m not involved,” Corbin said. “Obviously the Division I people have concerns with Pembroke.”
Asked whether he thought the committee’s decision to boycott Pembroke was deserved, Corbin said, “I would say no comment. I’m not getting into the middle of something I have no control over.”
The Pembroke administration hopes to regain control tomorrow night at a closed meeting between school officials and parents of boys’ basketball players. The administration will discuss its next move, which could include legal proceedings, although no one knows for sure where this will go.
Also, data will be documented to reveal the number of AAU-connected students who have transferred to Pembroke during Matt Alosa’s career there.
He’ll also receive full support from his school.
“We want to defend our district,” said Serafin, the school board chairman. “We feel like we have a good administration, great coaches and great student-athletes who deserve the opportunity to compete.”
(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rayduckler.)