By Lindsay Toler
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MSHSAA bylaw 238.3 states hardship exceptions are granted "when sufficient evidence is provided to show that it was necessary for the student to transfer because of unforeseen, unavoidable, or unusual circumstances; including, but not limited to, broken home conditions, death of parents or guardian, and abandonment and provided the transfer was not for athletic reasons and there was no undue influence [recruiting]."
Citing privacy laws, MSHSAA denied Riverfront Times' request for documentation of any hardship exceptions granted to Vashon basketball players. But Schroeder confirms that the school did not file any requests for such exceptions during the last school year.
Schroeder declined to discuss specific cases of eligibility but agreed to assess hypothetical scenarios. Presented with a scenario identical to Harris' and asked whether such a player would be ineligible, Schroeder responded, "Yes."
Reached by phone for comment, Kenneth Harris Sr. says his son (who has since transferred to Gateway IT High School) did not live on Shenandoah. Harris hung up after declining to answer further questions.
Last year Riverfront Times interviewed then-Soldan basketball coach Travis Lawrence about Harris' defection to Vashon.
"A lot of people called me and said, 'You should press this matter, bring this up,'" Lawrence recounted. "[Darlene and Kenneth Harris] had looked me in the eye in the summer and told me that the kid was staying at Soldan [for his sophomore year]."
Lawrence felt he was unable to compete with the prestige and the perks offered by a basketball dynasty like Vashon, where along with winning records came navy-blue letter jackets and portable music players for every Wolverine, as well as sparkling uniforms and state-of-the-art sneakers supplied to the team through a contract with Nike.
"He's a young black kid: the most materialistic kids on Earth," Lawrence explained. "What better thing than a pair of Nike shoes to dangle in front of his face? Some kids, there's no better thing than a Vashon jacket and Nike kicks.
"You really need a strong kid in character and heart [to turn your back on that]," Lawrence added. "We're here to teach them about integrity and honesty and faith and [to] stick to their guns. But you know, when some come from deprived backgrounds, these kinds of things can happen. I don't want to use language as strong as 'exploiting the kids,' but Kenny leaves a position where he's a starter and captain on my team. He leaves that to go sit on the bench [with the reserves] at Vashon. You see what I'm saying: This thing got implications that reach beyond just basketball."
Still, Lawrence opted not to report the apparent violation to the state. "I didn't want to make no waves," he explained. "I just wanted to coach basketball."
A review of district enrollment data indicates that Kenneth Harris Jr. was by no means Vashon's only violator of MSHSAA bylaw 238.0.
Six other basketball players Lorenzo Gordon Jr. (class of '01), Anthony Wilson ('01), Nicholas Kern ('02), Donny Jackson ('03), Raymond Harrell ('07) and Havard McLemore ('07) enrolled at Vashon despite providing an address outside the school's boundaries.
All would have to have been granted hardship exceptions from MSHSAA. Yet according to the state agency, since 2000 only two athletes at Vashon obtained such transfers: one in 2002-'03, the second in 2003-'04. (MSHSAA says it has discarded its records from years prior to 2000.)
Citing privacy laws, MSHSAA assistant executive director Stacy Schroeder declines to identify the two students, who could be male or female and might have played any sport.
According to Johnny Little, executive director of public information for the St. Louis Public Schools, Vashon "destroyed" all eligibility paperwork more than one year old.
MSHSAA bylaws state that a student athlete may play for a school after 365 days of continuous attendance at the school. Implicit in the rule is the concept of "red-shirting," i.e., practicing and intrasquad scrimmaging but not playing in any games or appearing on the roster. The MSHSAA's Stacy Schroeder calls this "creating residency."
During the past decade, many Wolverines Benjamin Adams (class of 2007), Brian Roach ('06), Quentin Stidmon ('02), Antonio Scaife ('03), Priest Gordon (did not graduate), McArthur Taylor ('02) and Brendon Jackson ('01) have done just that, typically transferring to Vashon for ninth grade but not suiting up to play until their sophomore season.
Schroeder says it's "odd" to see so many players taking this route to a single team, but it's not a violation of state rules.
Other players seem to have avoided the red-shirt process by supplying district officials with false addresses that make it appear as though they reside within Vashon's boundaries.
One such student is Alburey Doss Jr., who began his senior year this past September. Doss' late father, Alburey "Doss the Boss" Doss, played for Floyd Irons at Vashon in the mid-1980s and went on to Tennessee State University, according to a 1993 Post-Dispatch article. The younger Doss had never attended a St. Louis public school when he enrolled at Vashon in 2004 and joined the basketball team. After appearing briefly during '04-'05, as a junior last year Doss scored 146 points and pulled down 60 rebounds in 26 games.