Never Too Small to Break the Rules

Andrea Loring got tired of seeing private high schools recruit star basketball players. But she had no idea busting them would bring her such grief.

With three Dominicans still on the roster, including the dominant Johan Rivera, the Victors have controlled the game with ACE right from the tip-off. (These same backups scored a 103-38 victory over Brito Private two nights earlier.) By the end of the third quarter, the score is 58-37. Frustration grows on the ACE side. A Michael Jordan acolyte on the ACE team, a boy wearing a jersey with Jordan's number, a black-and-red elastic knee brace folded over just as Jordan wore, and Air Jordans on his feet, receives a second technical foul and is ejected from the game. He bursts into tears. Crouching with his back turned to his coach, he cries into his hands. Eventually he slumps down and pulls the neck of his jersey over his face to hide his tears. On the court Miami Christian swoops in for another easy basket.

There is a lull in crowd noise as the ACE point guard dribbles up the court. Suddenly Morrison leans forward to break the silence. "Deee-fense!" she screams, and her Miami Christian players seem to respond. The final score is an easy 28-point win for the Victors. Stepping down the bleachers after the game, Morrison smiles broadly. "Just imagine what we could have done if we had our full bench!" she exclaims.

The Academy for Community Education's principal, Andrea Loring, blew the whistle  on the scandal
The Academy for Community Education's principal, Andrea Loring, blew the whistle on the scandal

The fake transcript bothers Dan Boyd the most. In all his investigations of foreign transfer students, it's the academic record of an American that convinces him his labors are justified and necessary. There can be, he intones, no more blatant an example of cheating.

Last year guard David Christ played his basketball at a boarding school in New Hampshire. He transferred down to Florida over the summer, and enrolled at Northwest Christian Academy for what school administrators said was his fourth year of high school. He's nineteen years old.

"His transcript immediately caught my eye," says Boyd, who examined the records of every player on the defending state championship team. "He was a very good student, all A's and B's. The question in my mind was why would an A and B student still be in high school when he's approaching age twenty? Because I had the ability to contact a U.S. school and speak the language -- which is a difficulty when you're talking about Yugoslavia and Russia and these areas -- I made it my business to run down the school this boy had transferred from."

Boyd learned that Christ had attended a public school for the first three years of high school. He then transferred to Victory Baptist School in Londonderry, New Hampshire. "For some reason his parents asked and the [Baptist] school let him repeat his junior year," says Boyd. "According to the official transcript that I had the principal of the New Hampshire school fax down to me, the student had already used up all four years of his eligibility."

But that's not what was indicated on the transcript Boyd obtained from Northwest Christian. "It had clearly been doctored," Boyd asserts. Victory Baptist is such a small school that Christ's official transcript from that institution simply listed on plain paper his grades, classes, and dates of attendance, all accompanied by the signature of the school's principal. Northwest Christian also provided Boyd with a supposedly authentic copy of the Victory Baptist transcript, but this one was printed in a different typeface. The principal's signature was neater, and obviously a forgery. Most relevant, Christ's entire freshman year from the official transcript had been lopped off the fake transcript. According to Northwest Christian's transcript, Christ had another year of eligibility left when in fact he did not.

"The gentleman I talked to in New Hampshire was a real nice guy, very helpful," Boyd recalls. "He said that coach Pujol had called him within the last month and had asked for the boy's grades from the repeat junior year. That would imply to me that somebody [at Northwest Christian] knew what was going on." (In a telephone interview last week, Anthony Pujol, Northwest Christian's head coach, responded to an inquiry about the fake transcript. "I don't know anything about that," he said.)

Because of Christ the FHSAA stripped Northwest Christian of all 22 victories earned this season. The school was denied a chance to defend its state championship in this Saturday's playoff final.

Christ had been ineligible all year long. Technically, though, the school was punished only for playing him in the district championship game, against Champagnat. That contest was played on a Saturday night at the gymnasium of Miami Country Day in Miami Shores.

The teams are the fiercest of rivals. Last season Champagnat won the district championship over Northwest Christian only to later lose the state title game to the same team. Champagnat had reached the state final the year before; Northwest Christian had reached the final four. After a Champagnat player transferred to Northwest Christian this past summer, the Catholic school persuaded the FHSAA to revoke the player's eligibility.

As they tip off tonight, both teams are under investigation by the FHSAA. Champagnat's eleven international transfer students all claim to live with a single assistant coach. The dual investigations lend the game an unspoken parity. Neither team has the upper hand. Both teams could be pulled from the playoffs as early as Monday. Tonight's game, though, is strictly about basketball, about relatively equal programs determining which one is better.

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