July 28, 2014
You want to blame the kids?
I don’t. How can anybody blame them?
Sure, center Cliff Alexander may look like a man and play basketball like a man. At 6-9, 240, he’s bigger than almost any man anywhere.
But he’s 18, a senior at Curie High School, and last time anybody looked, Alexander doesn’t do the paperwork for his school, his basketball team or his coach, Mike Oliver. Nor does he set the Chicago Public Schools eligibility rules, grade-point requirements, classroom schedules or tournament matchups.
So let’s not blame him or any of the Curie players who are now part of one of the most embarrassing moments in CPS boys basketball history. And that’s saying something, since the city’s hardwoods have seen some pitiful messes through the years.
After playing perhaps the most memorable and thrilling game in Chicago high school championship history, squeaking out a quadruple-overtime, 69-66 win over Whitney Young on Feb. 21, Curie got to celebrate for just one week before the roof caved in. On Friday, CPS authorities stripped Curie of the crown — the school’s first city title in history — and took away all 24 of the team’s wins this season.
A CPS investigation, which came after administrators received an anonymous phone call just before the title game, showed Curie had been playing with seven ineligible players all year.
Now, eligibility is a weird thing in the CPS, where players seem to come and go depending on which coach or AAU mentor gets their ear and promises great things at this or that school. But if you have below a 2.0 GPA, you’re not supposed to be able to play sports unless — and this is a great unless — you have an “individual study plan” and have signed notices stating as much.
Eligibility sheets partly based on those notices are supposed to be exchanged by both coaches before each game, but Curie’s Oliver apparently never had any or had exchanged any this entire season.
Hmm. Wonder why.
At any rate, a thrilling sports moment — with No. 2 nationally ranked Curie and Kansas-bound Alexander taking on a powerhouse Young team led by Duke-bound center Jahlil Okafor — became just another ugly zit on CPS’s pockmarked hoops face. That the championship game even went off is sad, showing that the powers-that-be care more about entertainment and showdowns than education or rules. Of course, hoops junkie Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in the large crowd at Chicago State’s Jacoby Dickens Center, and ESPN3 cameras were set up, and who can let such titans down?
Now, unbelievably, the Illinois High School Association, which determines the rules for the state tournament, may allow Curie —which has no wins, remember, and as of a day ago had seven ineligible players — to play in the tourney.
It’s all nuts. And, as noted, sad.
Mostly that’s what it is.
Chicago’s public schools are wracked by the violence in neighborhoods around them, the constant cutting of funds, the anger of teachers who feel overburdened and underloved, parents who often feel uninvolved or helpless and statistics that show the future failure of male students is almost guaranteed.
Some of the worst blemishes of the past — perhaps starting with the killing of Simeon superstar Ben Wilson in 1984 and continuing through the depressing tales of King’s Leon Smith and even Eddy Curry from South Holland’s Thornwood High School — seem to add to the sense of depression that follows too many on-court displays of grace and magic.
Remember the student shot to death in the parking lot after last year’s Simeon-Morgan Park game? Remember the brawl that broke out between the players as the game ended? Simeon superstar Jabari Parker was there.
Remember how our beloved Bulls guard Derrick Rose had his grades changed via computer while at Simeon? How his dubious college test scores eventually got Memphis’ second-place finish in the 2008 NCAA tourney and all 38 wins that season thrown out?
Education. It would be easy to blame the public school kids for their own failings in that regard.
But those kids go to school because they have to. It’s the adults who teach them all the fine lessons.