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NHIAA to players: Play all-star game, lose eligibility

The state’s governing body of high school athletics recently warned 11 basketball players not to compete in a charity all-star game this month, saying the players would lose their eligibility if they participated.

As a result, the players, including Dominic Timbas of Pembroke Academy, Brendan Johnson of Bishop Brady High School and Dana Bean of Franklin High, have opted out of the third Sam Carey All Star Classic, slated for Aug. 22 at Manchester Central High.

The decision to enforce the statute, which forbids high school players from competing in all-star games that are not sanctioned by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, was made by Jeff Collins, who replaced Pat Corbin as NHIAA director last month.

Collins’s ruling has angered parents of players chosen for the game. They say the players will miss a chance to impress college coaches, who, while not specifically invited to attend the game, will certainly be there looking for talent.

Parents also wonder why the NHIAA would stop kids from playing for a good cause, in this case to raise money for Rock On Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the Bonner brothers, Matt and Luke of Concord.

Money raised will refurbish old basketball courts in Manchester. The Bonners recently spruced up the court at White Park through their foundation. Contacted this week, both had heard about the controversy, but neither knew the NHIAA statute during the planning process.

They offered no criticism, which could not be said for everyone.

“They’re (the NHIAA) a bunch of bullies and you have no choice,” said Jim Ball, whose son, Cody Ball, a senior point guard at Londonderry High, was picked for the game. “What an incredible opportunity for these high school kids to play in the biggest competition they’ve ever played in. For an organization like the NHIAA to say you can’t play in it, I just can’t understand that. This is pathetic.”

Added Dominic Timbas’s father, Jamie Timbas, “The irony is they’re supposed to be acting in the best interest of kids, and historically they haven’t done so. The word no one wants to hear in high school is bullying, and the NHIAA has allowed and continued this type of mentality.”

Collins said he had no choice but to enforce the rule, which, he added, “has been in (the handbook) for as long as anyone can remember.”

“I tried to avoid having the kids putting themselves in jeopardy,” Collins continued. “Potentially, what happens if the kids had played and others had been held accountable to this rule?”

Collins said he knew the rule but didn’t know about the game. He had been alerted by athletic directors of players chosen for the event.

The event’s organizer, Brett Sellingham, is the owner and founder of BST Basketball, a Manchester-based company that markets and promotes the sport through summer programs and all-star showcases.

Sellingham said he was unaware of the bylaw when he picked the players last month and only learned of it this week, after Collins had called him.

“I wasn’t familiar with it,” Sellingham said. “I said it’s a shame. It makes no sense to me. What would be the intention?”

Sellingham said his conversation with Collins was cordial but called his predicament “a pain in the butt.” Prep school players, who are not under the NHIAA’s jurisdiction, will fill the new roster, Sellingham said.

The showcase honors Sam Carey, a star player at Manchester Central and Southern New Hampshire University who was killed in a car crash in 2011.

Sellingham said last year’s tribute to Carey took the form of a summer league of high school teams. Money was collected after the regular season, during a night of playoff games, and Sellingham said the NHIAA made no effort to block the event.

Because the bylaw specifically says the NHIAA won’t sanction “any All-Star team” and makes no reference to games played for charity, Sellingham believed there was a way around it.

“From what I gather, it’s all because it says all-star in the title,” Sellingham said. “If it had been just titled the Sam Carey Game, no problem, I think. Moving forward, that would be the thing to do.”

Collins couldn’t confirm Sellingham’s theory, saying, “I have to go back and look at what has transpired in the past. I’m more than happy to work with organizers of this and find a solution. I want to partner with them.”

“It’s certainly worthy of a conversation with the eligibility committee going forward here,” Collins continued. “This is such a great event for charity, it gives you a little bit of pause (to forbid the players from playing), but we’d reach out to organizers to find out how we can work together down the road.”

Still, Sellingham said parents are upset, seeing an opportunity lost to promote both their sons and basketball in the state.

Few voices have been louder than Timbas’s. He was locked in a heated battle this year with Corbin, who ruled that Dominic Timbas’s eligibility had expired after last season because Dominic repeated eighth grade.

That decision was overturned through appeal, but not before some angry words were exchanged between Jamie Timbas and Corbin through the news media.

Also, Pembroke is currently fighting for its basketball life, after coaches refused to schedule the Spartans this season due to a recruiting scandal that has rocked the community.

“The NHIAA does not have to answer to anyone,” Timbas said. “We as taxpayers pay their salaries and expenses, so we should have some type of oversight to what they do and how they do it. A time has come where some state or government agency has to oversee them.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@ cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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