Dallas ISD has, for the moment at least, put last spring's athletic-recruiting scandal behind it. The 15 coaches and administrators Superintendent Mike Miles fired over the summer have exhausted their appeals. Madison High School's 2012-13 and 2013-14 basketball titles have been vacated. There's a new athletic director and, the district says, a renewed commitment to enforcing state rules ensuring that high school athletes are playing where they're supposed to and not changing schools for athletic purposes.
On Tuesday, the UIL District 11-4A Executive Committee turned its attention to the future, namely figuring out if Madison High School's all-state shooting guard and Texas A&M commit Admon Gilder should be eligible to play at Madison during his senior season. Hang with us -- it's complicated.
The DEC is the bottom-most appendage of Texas' byzantine high-school sports bureaucracy, comprising one coach and one administrator from each school in the district. Its primary responsibility is setting rules for each sport (e.g. what brand of basketball, what time games start, who gets into the playoffs if there's a tie). But this is often overshadowed by its responsibility for adjudicating whether athletes are eligible to play varsity sports.
DEC meetings are technically open to the public thanks to state open meetings laws, though the public will be forgiven for not feeling terribly welcome. Agendas for the meetings, which are held as needed and aren't pre-scheduled, are posted at least 72 hours in advance in the main lobby of the Shook Building. DISD says it's working on getting the agendas online, which must be far more difficult than it sounds.
To find the Shook Building, you take Ervay Street south from downtown until you're in the non-gentrified part of the Cedars. The building is devoid of any identifying signage and is most readily identifiable as the anonymous brick building across the street from a remarkably decrepit DISD warehouse. It's the one surrounded by DISD cop cars. Don't be fooled by the prominent double doors on the northeast side of the building, which all architectural logic would suggest are the main entrance. They are locked, but if you're lucky a DISD cop will instruct you in a semi-friendly manner to use the front door, which is actually more of a side door, but whatever. You've found the lobby.
Assuming you find an agenda, and assuming the meeting isn't changed at the last minute, your next challenge is to find the actual meeting. The lobby isn't a lobby so much as a sally port separated from the rest of the building by a locked door. Eventually you'll probably figure out to press the high-tech doorbell doodad and communicate to the disembodied voice that you're there for the athletic thingy, although you're probably better off just waiting for someone who knows what they're doing to show up, like Madison's principal, and trail behind him. Otherwise, there's no way to know that you need to take the stairs, sign in at the unmanned kiosk in the upstairs lobby, and go right rather than left at the fork.
Go straight and you'll enter a sparsely furnished room roughly the size of a basketball court. To the right are two small windows obscured by blinds and, judging by the three or four gargantuan LG boxes stacked against the wall, DISD's cache of unopened flat-screen TVs. Crowded into the leftmost portion of the room, as if trying to be as far from natural sunlight as possible, people are talking seriously around a rectangle of tables.
Congratulations! You've found the DEC meeting.
Tuesday's meeting was exclusively devoted to reviewing Previous Athletic Participation Forms, or PAPFs. UIL requires these to be filled out by every student athlete who changes schools. The DEC reviews the forms to ensure the move isn't being made for "athletic purposes," which isn't allowed. Since there's no reasonable way for a loosely organized group of coaches and educators equipped with no real investigative authority to divine an athlete's true motivation for switching schools, they instead make an armchair effort to ensure the kid lives where he says he lives, i.e. in the attendance zone of the school he's attending.
This is a thoroughly depressing exercise. DEC members quiz the coach on why the kid moved and how he knows the kid lives where he says. The coach responds with matter-of-fact descriptions of a Dickensian childhood. There was this description of a ninth-grader: "Mom deceased. Dad, I don't think he's in his life." Another girl switched from a school in Fort Worth to Pinkston because she "wasn't given proper guidance" while living with her mother, who coach suspects "has some substance abuse problems." Another kid moved in with his grandmother near Wilmer-Hutchins High School after his house in Lancaster burned down. If they're satisfied with the explanation, the DEC approves the transfer. If not, they might call a hearing where they will cross-examine the student and parent on their reason for relocating.
Gilder's case was different, as he has lived in the same house with a biological parent for years and because his PAPF was dated three years ago.
"The student lives in the Bryan Adams attendance zone," explained Silvia Salinas, the assistant athletic director chairing Tuesday's meeting. "A PAPF should have been done in the ninth grade. It wasn't."
Had Gilder listed his actual home address, which is off Garland Road, and obtained DISD approval to transfer to Madison, he would have had to sit on the sidelines for a calendar year before he was eligible to play varsity athletics. Instead, Gilder went to Madison for three years using an address belonging to assistant basketball coach Tracy Flentroy and immediately began playing varsity basketball. So Gilder was clearly ineligible for his freshman season. His use of the coach's address and the fact that he didn't go through proper procedures when transferring to Madison also affected his eligibility during his sophomore and junior seasons, when he led the team to consecutive state championships. That was part of the reason Madison forfeited its two titles, Salinas said.
But wait. It only gets more arcane and confusing. Gilder recently obtained from DISD a "hardship transfer," which let students change schools because of broad "personal or family circumstances."
Typically, students on hardship transfers are required to sit out a year before they can play varsity athletics. But in a move that is comprehensible only to career athletic bureaucrats, Gilder will be eligible to play his senior season at Madison as soon as the DEC approves his three-year-old PAPF.
Gil Garza, DISD's new athletic director, said this morning that he's triple-checked Gilder's situation with UIL Athletic Director Mark Cousins.
"I called Mark Cousins with the UIL. I said, 'Mark, this kid Admon Gilder is still at Madison High School. He's been there three years but doesn't live in the Madison attendance area. I want this kid to play somewhere, I just don't where that somewhere is.'"
The upshot, Garza says: "As long as he's been at Madison for more than a year -- and he's been there three years -- he can live wherever he wants" and still play basketball.
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Just to be sure, Garza called Cousins again on the way back from a meeting of UIL's State Executive Committee on Tuesday and asked again about the one-year waiting period for hardship transfers.
"'Gil,'" Garza remembers Cousins saying, "'they've had to forfeit two state championships. He's established residency. The boy has paid the penalty. There's nothing else you can do to him.'"
The DEC tabled a decision on Gilder's eligibility on Tuesday, but only because Gilder submitted his application on last year's PAPF form, which is frowned upon. The committee appears likely to approve the transfer at its next meeting.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.