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Similarly, Benjamin Adams (who joined the basketball team in 2004 as a sophomore after "creating residency") moved last year to a house on the 2700 block of Allen Avenue, outside Vashon's boundaries. Visited at the home last month, Adams said he lives there with his cousin and that his mother resides elsewhere in the city. He was not sure of her address.
Then there's DeAlan Hicks, who joined the Wolverines in the fall of 2002. He had attended Roosevelt High School in ninth grade and a county school (via the desegregation program) in tenth. Hicks' cousin, Christine Byas, of the 3900 block of North 23rd Street, says he moved in with her "for his bus transportation and all" during his junior and senior years at Vashon. Byas says Hicks' parents, although separated, lived elsewhere in the city of St. Louis but she didn't know precisely where.
Hicks' classmates Dwayne Polk ('04) and Curtis Muse Jr. ('04) present similar cases. Polk enrolled at Vashon as a freshman in 2000 and joined the Wolverines, supplying the school district with an address on the 3700 block of 25th Street, within Vashon boundaries. As a junior in 2002, Polk supplied a new address on the 5200 block of Maffitt Avenue but did not change schools as required under district policy and, by extension, state bylaws. City property records show that Polk's mother purchased the Maffitt Avenue home in September 2000.
Polk, now a junior at Saint Louis University and a guard on the Billikens basketball team, says he and his mother lived within Vashon's boundaries in a townhouse that was "south but downtownish," near Jefferson Avenue. He could not remember the address and did not recall living on 25th Street. His mother did not return a phone call requesting comment.
Curtis Muse's mother, Louise Muse, of the 10200 block of Hallwood Drive in Dellwood, says her son attended school in Riverview Gardens for ninth and tenth grade. But he had learning problems, and "they were about to kick him out," she says. One day while shopping for basketball shoes at a north-county Foot Locker, the Muse family spoke with staffers about Curtis' predicament. "They all said, because of his height, 'Oh, he needs to go to Vashon,'" Muse recalls.
Muse says she owned a house in the city at that time but Curtis never lived there. She and her husband continued to reside in the county while their son bounced between homes: a cousin's on Franklin Avenue in Vashon's mandated attendance area, as well as a family friend's and a distant relative's elsewhere in the city.
Muse says Floyd Irons had nothing to do with her son's transfer to Vashon. "Look," she says, "sometimes as a parent you got to do what you got to do for your kids."
Missouri was behind the curve back in 1927 when it became the 45th state to form a high school athletics association. In addition to sports, today MSHSAA oversees music, debate, cheerleading, dance teams and academic activities. Its staff and ten-member board of directors enforce myriad requirements for eligibility, including citizenship, academic performance and residency. Since 1997 the MSHSAA has also deployed a special investigative committee to evaluate formal complaints of alleged recruiting.
With more than 700 high schools to oversee, the organization has been more reactive than proactive: It does not, in other words, actively seek to root out cheaters.
"Some schools will self-report violations," explains board member Mike Gohn, who's also Parkway School District's athletic director. "Others aren't even aware they're violating a rule until it comes to their attention, like from somebody else. I know we [in the Parkway district] get in touch with people at other schools when we think there's a potential problem with a student, and we rely on other schools to do the same for us."
When the board determines that a school or player has committed a violation, MSHSAA may levy sanctions. Imposed on a case-by-case basis, these can include censure, forfeiture, fines, warnings, probation and/or a 365-day suspension from the association.
St. Mary's in Independence and Hickman High of Columbia, for example, had to forfeit district baseball championships in 1997 and 1999, respectively, after they self-reported having fielded ineligible players.
On the other hand, the Springfield Public Schools received only a reprimand this past June, after a new district athletic director self-reported that there'd been numerous improper freshman transfers since 1997. The athletes had attended an international baccalaureate program at Central High through a special admission process and lived in the Springfield district but outside Central's mandated boundaries. None should have played varsity sports without a hardship exception from MSHSAA.
"We saw it as a misinterpretation of the rule," notes Mike Gohn, explaining why a harsher penalty was not meted out. "If the 'hardships' would have been filed, they more than likely would have been accepted."
MSHSAA's Rick Kindhart says no state titles were at stake in the Springfield case.
MSHSAA's Stacy Schroeder says the board "many times" rules that an ineligible player must sit out a number of games equal to those he played in while ineligible.
For example, had Curtis Muse '04 been found ineligible during or after his junior year, he might have been forbidden to suit up for most of his senior year.