Copyright 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC
All Rights Reserved
Homewood-Flossmoor High School's embattled varsity girls basketball coach was fired Tuesday night as both coach and a teacher.
The District 233 school board voted 4-3 to not renew the employment contract for Anthony Smith, who was suspended in February by the Illinois High School Association just before the state tournament was to start. The IHSA took the action against Smith, banned the girls team from the tournament and forfeited all of its games because of what the IHSA called serious and repeated violations of its bylaws.
When reached by phone, Smith declined to comment on the school board's decision, which does not eliminate the possibility that Smith could be brought back as a teacher. However, his rehiring is not being considered, District 233 Supt. Von Mansfield said.
Smith teaches driver's education, physical education and health at H-F.
His assistant coach, Evan Bercot, also did not have his contract renewed Tuesday.
Parents and students packed the H-F school library Tuesday night and voiced their support for Smith.
"He provided a lot for this program. He just gave us an experience that we'll probably remember for a long time," said Lexi Smith, a senior on the girls team and one of its six controversial transfer players this season. "He just didn't make us the best in the state. He made us the best in the nation."
Lexi Smith believes people in the community look at the team as a group of cheaters, which she said was a false impression of the girls and the coach that came out of the controversy. She said H-F officials did not do enough to defend the team's reputations.
"No one believes that you're cheaters," school board president Richard Lites told her.
Lites said the board has contractual requirements and procedures regarding employment, and more information is expected to come from the IHSA regarding Smith's specific situation.
Smith's status with the IHSA will apparently be determined at an IHSA board meeting on March 22. Smith has been on "indefinite suspension" since Feb. 19, pending a further investigation into possible recruiting violations.
"Our board has some follow-up to do with that, and I think it'll happen at our (IHSA) board meeting on the 22nd, whatever it might be," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said. "The board has to determine what his suspension, if any, would be.
"I'm not suggesting one way or another (what will happen), but that's what's left out there hanging, the status of his indefinite suspension. I think they will bring some clarity to that on the 22nd."
Hickman said it was "highly unlikely" Smith would be permanently banned from coaching.
During his only season as H-F coach, the Vikings were 21-2 but had all of their wins stripped by the IHSA after the school and Smith were found in violation of the IHSA's participation rules.
Smith announced last May he was leaving Bolingbrook for to become the girls coach at H-F. At Bolingbrook, he coached 12 seasons, winning four state titles and nine consecutive sectional championships.
Almost immediately after coming to H-F, rumors began to circulate that Smith would be bringing in several transfers. He wound up with six: four from Bolingbrook (Amarah Coleman, Destiny Harris, Kristen Moore and Lexi Smith) and one each from Marist (Bria Stallworth) and Plainfield East (Faith Suggs). All of the transfers were approved at the time by the IHSA.
On Jan. 15, a member of the girls team filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming that Smith had unfairly recruited players from other schools. The suit asked that Smith be dismissed as coach and the six transfers removed from the team until the IHSA conducted an investigation into the alleged recruiting violations.
On Feb. 14, H-F Principal Ryan Pitcock contacted the IHSA and said that the school had done its own inquiry and found that Smith and the transfers had committed some participation violations and that H-F had violated the IHSA's open gym rules.
In response, the IHSA on Feb. 19 declared that H-F had to forfeit all of its regular-season games, was ineligible for the state tournament and that Smith was suspended indefinitely, pending further investigation into the alleged recruiting violations.
On March 28, the lawyer for the unidentified Vikings player dropped the lawsuit against the school, saying it would be too costly and time-consuming to pursue.