ITPS Classic charity basketball games face resistance over underclassmen participation

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Sunday, March 18, 2018 | 12:06 AM


As an event organizer, Shane Phillips has read and reread Article IX of the PIAA bylaws, particularly Section 2 that deals with all-star games.

The rule says if a high school student-athlete participates in an all-star game, the athlete is ineligible in that sport for one year.

It's a black-and-white rule with a gray area: What exactly counts as an all-star game?

Phillips is confident the rule doesn't apply to underclassmen participating in the ITPS Cancer Sucks charity basketball games March 31 at Chatham because his event shouldn't be considered an all-star contest.

“We've talked to the PIAA,” said Phillips, a Pittsburgh native who played college basketball for South Carolina. “This event, No. 1, is a charity event. We never promoted it as an all-star game. That's one of the things you have to do for underclassmen (to participate).”

Phillips announced on Twitter that Kennedy Catholic star Maceo Austin, Sewickley Academy's Isiah Warfield and Mars' Andrew Recchia were among the juniors who accepted invites.

The first-year event has partnered with Dr. Gregory Merrick, a Wheeling, W.Va., oncologist who organizes basketball fundraisers for cancer research. This ITPS Sports event will match basketball players from Pennsylvania and West Virginia with two games for seniors and two for underclassmen, Phillips said.

The PIAA all-star game rule isn't an issue for seniors because they'll have already exhausted their high school basketball eligibility. The WPIAL's two leading scorers, Mars senior Robby Carmody and Laurel Highlands senior Bryce Laskey, are expected to play.

“There are a number of all-star contests throughout Pennsylvania that highlight seniors as a culminating activity to the season in whatever sport,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “But obviously, you get some promoters like this, that undergraduates are something they want to attract. Unfortunately, some people buy into it.”

As a general policy, the PIAA does not favor all-star-type events, whether allowed or not, because they promote certain players over others.

“A lot of folks stay away from them,” Lombardi said. “I would certainly recommend that people not participate in those types of things because I don't think they're in the best interest of the student.”

But Lombardi added that the ITPS Sports underclassman games could be allowable under PIAA rules. According to the bylaws, a contest is not an all-star game if it meets three requirements:

• 1. The contest is not advertised or promoted as an all-star game.

• 2. Participants cannot represent their school and cannot wear any school-affiliated uniform or apparel.

• 3. The contest is open to all students or to all students in the same grade level. Or students are selected to participate based upon tryouts or a uniform standard of qualification (such as certified minimum times for a swimming or track event).

That third hurdle is often trouble.

“If students are selected on their high school reputation for participation, that would be not allowed,” Lombardi said. “If they're selected on their performance outside of high school athletics, that would be allowed.”

Warfield and Recchia were two of the better juniors in the WPIAL this season, and Austin is a major Division I recruit at Kennedy Catholic. But Phillips said only underclassmen already associated with the AAU organization ITPS Sports were selected.

The ITPS Sports stable of basketball instructors includes former Hempfield standout Nate Perry and former Sewickley Academy standout Tom Droney.

“You can't pick kids based on merit, which we haven't done,” Phillips said. “This is an AAU event, so all the kids that are participating have either played for our AAU organization or at some point in time been a part of our AAU organization. … Even with our selection process, I can't think of a kid that has asked to play that we said no to so far.”

Additionally, organizers scheduled an open tryout March 30.

“Underclassmen that want to play will have a tryout that's open for them to come and compete and get selected to play on this team,” Phillips said.

“We've talked to the PIAA and made sure everything's OK as far as players' eligibility,” he added. “That was a concern we had initially when we started doing this. … We'll follow those stipulations to make sure everyone's OK.”

Still, when school administrators call, WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said he advises them to keep underclassmen away from such events.

“The way the rule's written, absolutely it's a risk,” O'Malley said. “If it's an all-star game and they're being picked because of what they did in high school, they have a problem.”

Phillips said he's aware the event, which had to change venues, has its critics.

“There's actually been a lot of resistance,” he said. “To be honest with you, it's kind of been disheartening. It's a shame because this has been at its core a charity event.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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