Cordia fans happy team doesn't have to sit out season

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LOTTS CREEK, Ky. (WYMT) - Update, 11/13/14

People in one Eastern Kentucky community are excited because their local high school will be able to field a boys basketball team this season.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association Board of Control Wednesday lifted a ban preventing Cordia High School from playing the 2014-15 season.

The Lions will only be able to play 15 games and still have to sit out the next two postseasons because of alleged infractions of KHSAA bylaws, but folks who live on Lotts Creek say getting to see their Lions play a few games is better than not at all.

"When I look around in the stands I see a lot of alumni from Cordia and people come from two or three hours away just to watch the boys play," Cordia alum and supporter Jessica Flores said. "It's that big of a deal to us. We're like family."

It's a family that faced a whole year without boys basketball.

"(Basketball) means quite a bit," said James Gregory, whose two sons attend Cordia. "There ain't much to do here, especially in the winter time. It's usually a packed house for home games."

Gregory's son, Cody Combs, a freshman at Cordia, said, "I'm glad they get to play the 15 games. I'd be more happy if it was the whole season. I hope they get to play Perry and Knott and all those schools."

Most of the sanctions levied against Cordia in July by KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett were upheld by the Board of Control.

Those sanctions include forfeiting every win from last season, probation until 2019 and more than $25,000 in fines.

Cordia officials object to the sanctions and told WYMT they will continue to fight in court.

School officials are optimistic the Lions will be able to play in the All "A" Classic.

Update, 11/12/14

Cordia will see the court this year, after all.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association Board of Control voted Wednesday to lessen penalties levied against Cordia High School by KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett.

The board upheld most of the commissioner's sanctions, but lifted Cordia's 2014-15 regular season ban.

The Lions will be allowed to play 15 games, but still must sit out the 2014-15 and '15-'16 postseasons.

Tackett in July issued the penalties for violations revealed by a KHSAA investigation into Cordia.

The board Wednesday upheld 18 of the commissioner's 27 findings against Cordia.

"There is a lack of institutional control that is blatantly evident," Board of Control President Carrell Boyd told WYMT after the ruling. "We need to get the attention of Cordia as a member of our association and they need to come into compliance. If they can't come into compliance then certainly we need to take next steps."

Rodrick Rhodes, the former UK and NBA player who now coaches the Lions, was present at the meeting, along with junior guard A.J. Chisolm and Lotts Creek Community School Director Alice Whitaker, who oversees operations at Cordia.

"I'm pleased with what happened but disappointed for the kids," Rhodes told WYMT. "It's a lot better than the death penalty, so that's the positive in this."

Chisolm said, "I was devastated by what they were saying and how they've taken all our games for two years. I couldn't even take it. I had to walk out."

Cordia will still be under probation until 2019 and must pay more than $25,000 in fines.

The board voted unanimously to uphold striking every win from Cordia's 2013-14 schedule.

Rhodes will still be allowed to coach, but if he leaves for another school the two-year postseason ban would follow him.

Rhodes told WYMT after Wednesday's meeting he has no plans to leave Cordia.

It's unclear whether the Lions will be able to play in the All "A" Classic, which is not governed by the KHSAA.

Cordia officials vowed to fight the sanctions in court.


Update, 7/29/14, 11 p.m.

Fans and supporters of the Cordia High School boys basketball team are having to get used to the thought of a season without watching their beloved Lions.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association Monday banned Cordia from competing during the 2014-15 season because of alleged violations of KHSAA bylaws.

Cordia is also barred from playing in the 2016 postseason.

"To penalize or say they can't have a team is unjust," said Terry Grigsby, who attended Cordia and lives in Lotts Creek, the neighborhood surrounding the school. "It's unjust as it could be to the community and the school."

Several players from other states and countries played for the Lions over the last few years, and KHSAA officials said some of them did not meet eligibility requirements.

But Courtney Worley, whose grandmother, Alice Whitaker, is the director at Cordia, said the school provides kids with better lives since many of them come from dangerous, inner-city environments.

"This is more than just basketball," Worley said. "These are students' lives. This is very important to them and their families, that they're here at Cordia and they're participating in whatever they can. Basketball, baseball or whatever we can offer."

Former Cordia player Adam Stacy said he disagrees with the sanctions.

"This is all we've got in this community," Stacy said. "And if the Kentucky High School Athletic Association takes it away, what have we got left?"

Cordia serves as a rallying point for many people who live in Lotts Creek. The Lions not fielding a boys basketball team this coming season could hurt the community, Stacy said.

"It will devastate it," he said. "Whenever the (team) came back from the All 'A' Classic just about everybody on the holler was there at the school. Everybody."

Cordia officials said Tuesday they have already started the process of appealing the sanctions.

Former University of Kentucky player Rodrick Rhodes has coached the Lions for the last three years. Rhodes could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Cordia is a privately-owned school governed by the Knott County Board of Education. Knott County school administrators could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Update, 7/29/14, six p.m.

The following is a statement by Alice Whitaker, Director of the Lotts Creek Community School:

"We have no comment at this time on the KHSAA sanctions. We are handling this matter through our lawyers, due process, and the courts to rebuke this unfair, unjust, and unprecedented ruling. We are going through the proper appeal process and will be going through the courts, because clearly the KHSAA has no interest in being a fair and unbiased authoritative governing body."

Original story, 7/28/14:

Cordia High School was hit hard Monday by sanctions handed down by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Below is the official release from the KHSAA:

"The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has handed down sanctions to Cordia High School following a nearly yearlong investigation for violations of KHSAA bylaws including Bylaw 1 (Responsibility of Eligibility), Bylaw 4 (Enrollment Requirements), Bylaw 6 (Transfer Rule-Citizens of the U.S. or U.S. Territories), Bylaw 7 (Transfer Rule-Foreign Exchange Students), Bylaw 11 (Financial Aid), Bylaw 16 (Recruitment/Undue Influence), Bylaw 23 (Limitation of Season) and Bylaw 25 (Requirements for Coaches).

Among the penalties imposed by the Commissioner are:

*Suspension of the Cordia HS boys’ basketball team from playing scrimmages or contests during the 2014-15 regular and postseason, as well as the 2016 postseason. During its suspension, the school would be permitted to conduct regular season practices from October 15 until the first allowable day for district tournament play. Included in this penalty is a stipulation that representatives of the boys’ basketball team with eligibility remaining may transfer to specific KHSAA member schools without penalty;

*Forfeiture of all boys’ basketball games from the 2013-14 season for the use of at least one ineligible player in all games. The score will be recorded as 2-0 for all games which Cordia won, and the game score will remain the same for losses but will be noted as forfeits;

*Probation for Cordia’s interscholastic athletic program through the 2018-19 season. With this probation, Cordia will be placed on conditional membership, with its membership status to be reviewed at the end of the 2014-15 school year to determine whether its membership should continue to be recommended for approval by the Board of Control beginning with the 2015-16 season. Also as part of its probation, all Cordia coaches and athletic administrators shall be required to attend an in-service workshop in Lexington, conducted by the KHSAA staff concerning Association Bylaws and Kentucky law that affects interscholastic athletics during the 2014-15 school year. Additionally, an Assistant Commissioner will also be assigned to work directly with the Superintendent of schools and the Principal of Cordia to ensure development of policies, procedures and best practices to be implemented in the athletic program;

*Suspension of two members of the Cordia HS boys’ basketball coaching staff from the 2014-15 postseason boys’ basketball tournaments sanctioned by KHSAA.

*An aggregate fine of $25,980 for various infractions per the fine schedule in Bylaw 27.

“The majority of the aforementioned violations are clearly indicative of a school without any appreciable level of institutional control over its athletic program. While some violations date back to the 2010-2011 school year, the major violations occurred during the past twelve to twenty-four months. The violations in previous years, however, add context and it is my conclusion that they illustrate an undeniable pattern of practice and culture of noncompliance that has been allowed to evolve at Cordia,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett in his communication to the school. “Unfortunately, after this long and careful review, this series of events may well represent the most wanton and blatant disregard for Association rules in its 97 year history. There is apparently no person within the school or school system willing to actively and aggressively control and manage the athletic program. Therefore, students have been allowed an unrestricted privilege of participation without compliance with applicable and appropriate rules.

“Participation in interscholastic athletics has long been recognized as a privilege and not a right. This is an important distinction. With this privilege comes responsibility. A theme throughout this matter has been the participation, whether at practice or competition, of ineligible student-athletes,” added Tackett. “The participation by any ineligible students may have affected the outcome of those games. Moreover, participation by an ineligible student-athlete potentially jeopardizes coverage under the KHSAA’s catastrophic insurance policy that is provided for all student-athletes. The collective Association of member schools, including Cordia, have agreed to abide by the Bylaws of the KHSAA which are indisputable when the knowledge is there to prevent an ineligible player from participating.”

During the course of its investigation, the KHSAA found sufficient evidence that representatives of the athletic program, including representatives of the Lotts Creek Community School who are inextricably related to both the school and its athletic program, committed violations of KHSAA bylaws, many of which were acknowledged by the school, including:

*Falsifying records, or maintaining inaccurate records with regards to living arrangements of transferring student-athletes;

*Allowing a staff member to lease housing to the family of a student-athlete without ever receiving payment;

*Impermissible contact with multiple student-athletes with the intent to sway them to enroll at Cordia for the purpose of competing in athletics;

*Providing free transportation to relocate a student from an out-of-state school;

*Providing plane tickets on two separate occasions to a student-athlete so he could travel out-of-state;

*Facilitating housing for a student-athlete at no cost to him or his family;

*Providing money and clothes to student-athletes;

*Conducting tryouts for non-enrolled students;

*Paying the entire cost of education for two students on an F-1 exchange VISA to attend Cordia;

*Providing housing to numerous students that participated on the boys’ basketball team, as well as housing for their families;

*Allowing ineligible players to practice and compete in contests before they were cleared to participate;

*Requiring players to attend practice prior to the official start date for preseason practice (October 15), and disciplining students who missed these practice sessions;

*Holding “open gym” practices that were limited to the boys’ basketball team and thus mandatory, following the elimination from the postseason; and

*Failing to properly monitor the coaching requirements for individuals coaching in the boys’ basketball program, including the obligation to complete the legislatively mandated Sports Safety Course. These violations included a 30-day period during the 2013-14 season when no member of the coaching staff met the requirements of Bylaw 25.

Cordia has thirty (30) days to appeal the ruling to the KHSAA Board of Control. The KHSAA will have no further comment on this matter. All inquiries should be directed to Cordia High School or the Superintendent of the Knott County Schools."

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