Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Schools protest elite hoopsters

The Hamilton Spectator has an article highlighting one of the ripple effects of the shutting down of the NEDA program. This involves the girls program at St. Mary's in Hamilton coached by former McMaster Marauder and Guelph Gryphon Richie Wesolowski.

Schools protest elite hoopsters

NEDA folds, St. Mary's benefits

The collapse of a Basketball Canada program has created a messy situation for a local girls' league.

Canada Basketball's National Elite Development Academy (NEDA) for girls was chopped due to funding issues.

The national development training program was hosted by Hamilton. The girls attended St. Mary's High School and trained at McMaster University.

When the program collapsed, three of the girls decided to stay at St. Mary's. Others returned home.

The decision by the three -- Natalie Achonwa (Guelph), Karly Roser (Ancaster) and Alexandra Yantzi (Burlington) -- created a furor in the Hamilton Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association girls' basketball league.

At first, teams threatened to boycott games with St. Mary's Crusaders' senior girls' team.

Now the games are being played, but under protest.

"I'm happy we're playing basketball games," said St. Mary's head coach Rich Wesolowski. "That's what I'm happy about."

However, Doug Gellatly, executive director of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, the provincial governing body, says there are no rules to have the girls declared ineligible.

"It was not like they were transfer students. They had attended that school for at least a year," he said. "We do not have a rule in place covering the NEDA program."

If OFSAA says the girls are eligible, it should be the end of the protest.

It's not.

Websites such as are filled with angry postings.

A petition is being circulated by angry St. Mary's parents regarding the unfair treatment of former players who were cut from the team.

Others complain the players give St. Mary's an unfair advantage.

"It is a unique situation," said HWCAA superintendent Mary Cippolla, who is in charge of athletics. "NEDA folded and the girls have been at St. Mary's for as many as three years. They are not transfer students under our constitution, GHAC and OFSAA."

Wesolowski says if they are eligible, they are eligible, period.

"It is what it is," he said. "It's been stressful. I'm here trying to coach and all this stuff is happening."

Despite playing under protest, HWCAA girls' basketball coaches have been placed under a gag order.

"People are upset. They don't see this as being fair," said one parent, who wished to remain anonymous. "St. Mary's would have been good without these players. It would have been a battle between BT (Bishop Tonnos), STM (St. Thomas More), Brebeuf (St. Jean de Brebeuf), and St. Mary's. Now, there are three teams left to fight for second."

Another issue is the OFSAA quad-A girls' basketball tournament being hosted by Hamilton.

Chances of a second team from the HWCAA league making it to the tournament are slim. They would have to beat a very powerful Burlington Notre Dame team.

Canada Basketball started the NEDA program as a "Pathway to Excellence" in 2005.

It brought the top 12 male and female development athletes from across Canada, aged 15-18, to train at McMaster University and attend school at St. Mary's.

They were to have access to world-class training, sport science and medical support services at McMaster.

Games would be played against Canadian university and college teams, as well as a number of prep schools and club teams in the United States.

"I found out at the end of August the NEDA program had run out of funding," Wesolowski said. "I don't exactly know what happened."

But, he adds, the girls had a choice what they wanted to do. Some went home. Three stayed.

"I had nothing to do with bringing these kids here," Wesolowski noted. "They were already here going to school at St. Mary's. They made friends here and decided to stay."

One of the three, Achonwa, is not eligible to play for the Crusaders since she is playing on Canada's National team.

She's still taking classes at St. Mary's.

Roser, a 5-foot-9 guard, and Yantzi, a 6-foot-4 forward, are playing for the Crusaders.

"From Day 1 our principal (Emidio Piccioni) was open to everybody what may happen. He contacted GHAC, our board and OFSAA. They all knew," Wesolowski said. "We weren't hiding anything."

He suspects some people are upset with the rule and the decision to play under protest was made behind closed doors.

"What have I done?" asked the head coach. "I'm trying to coach a team from the best players available. If someone has a problem with that, they can say it to my face. I'm a coach. I'm not in charge of the rules.

"The meeting that was held about this had nothing to do with coaching, nothing to do with basketball. It was all politics."

He says the bottom line is "we all have to live with the decisions that have been made."

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