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Curie's Cliff Alexander screams after his game-winning dunk against West Aurora in December. If eligibilty forms had been filed by Curie this season, the Condors may not have had to foreit their 24 victories. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media
On the day of the city championship game, players on Curie’s No. 1-ranked basketball team in Illinois spent three hours wondering whether it would be allowed to play for the title.
If school officials had followed their own rules, the question wouldn’t have needed to be raised on game day — Feb. 21 — and Curie wouldn’t have ended up being stripped Friday of its 24 victories and city title.
Seven players had been ineligible since the beginning of the season, a Chicago Public Schools investigation determined.
That same investigation found that the players would have been deemed eligible if the proper paperwork had been filed, CPS announced Friday.
Before every game, teams are supposed to exchange computer-generated eligibility sheets, according to CPS policy. Those sheets also are supposed to be filed with CPS. But the rule is rarely followed or enforced, coaches told the Sun-Times.
In the case of Curie — which played Young for the city championship in a game that pitted two of the nation’s biggest high school stars, Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander — the forms never were exchanged, according to Young Principal Joyce Kenner, Young coach Tyrone Slaughter and Curie coach Mike Oliver.
Annette Gurley, CPS’ chief officer for the office that oversees the athletic programs, said Saturday no “eligibility sheets were found in the system prior to Feb. 21” for Curie.
“This has certainly shed some light,” Gurley said. “There certainly needs [to be] more oversight of the process.”
She said CPS would enforce the policy from now on.
An anonymous phone call to CPS just hours before the game triggered an investigation into the eligibility of the players, whose names have not been released.
Despite the allegations, Kenner said she “strongly encouraged” that the game be played. It drew thousands of spectators, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to Chicago State University, the neutral site where the game was played. It was televised in Chicago and was available live nationally via ESPN3.com.
“I was very concerned about safety if the game had been canceled and the stadium was filling,” Kenner said by email Saturday. “I was also very concerned the impact it would have nationally if the game were not played.”
CPS spokesman Joel Hood said Saturday that CPS schools officials spoke with Curie’s coach and administrators before the game about the players whose eligibility was in question.
“The understanding among Curie’s principal, athletic director and coach [was] that they were eligible and they could play,” Hood said.
CPS officials had little time to make a decision, according to a source, who said CPS officials later looked at the Curie players’ eligibility for the entire season.
To play sports, CPS students have to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average or be in an “individual study plan” and have a form certifying that.
During a weeklong investigation, CPS also looked at whether the team still could compete in the state tournament, which begins Monday. It found that Curie could because state eligibility rules are different. The Illinois High School Association, though, is reviewing the report from the CPS athletic administration and said it would announce its decision Monday.
Curie athletic director George Pratt wouldn’t comment Saturday.
Asked if he has been disciplined, Pratt said: “The announcement was made at 6 o’clock at night [Friday]. I guess I will find out Monday.”
CPS officials said Friday that Oliver will be suspended for a period to be decided by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the Chicago schools chief.
Curie’s principal and coach didn’t respond Saturday to requests for comment.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson met Saturday with Curie parents and players and said he plans to meet with CPS officials.
“Our children should not have to bear the burden of the responsibility of paid professionals [and] educators,” Jackson said.
Young athletic director Chris Cassidy said the exchange of eligibility sheets “has become merely a symbol.”
“It is the system we currently have in place, and I am sure because of this incident [it] will be enforced more strongly,” Cassidy said.
That’s exactly what will happen, Gurley said.
“It has to go from what someone called a symbol to a very necessary step,” she said, adding that games won’t be allowed to start now until the eligibility sheets are turned in.