By Miguel A. Melendez Staff Writer
What was considered one of the most remarkable stories of the year ended numbinbly cold for the Muir High School boys basketball team.
Muir was forced to forfeit 20 games because the school failed to prove a valid change of address for a key player, thus eliminating the Mustangs from the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA playoffs.
The forfeits also means Muir (4-22, 3-11) no longer is the Pacific League champion. It was an impressive season for the Mustangs who appeared to have dethroned nine-time defending champion and rival Pasadena. The Bulldogs’ reign continues, if only on paper.
At the heart of the issue was whether Muir had evidence to prove that Andre Frazier, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, had a valid change of address upon his transfer last year from Fairfax. He initially went to Bell-Jeff, transfered to University in Los Angeles and then to Fairfax before coming to Muir.
Frazier missed two key league games last week against Crescenta Valley and Pasadena after concerns were reaised over his eligibility. For precautionary reasons, Muir sat him out while it investigated. Muir officials made steps to establish its position that Frazier — who averaged 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks per game — did in fact make a valid change of address. Among other things, Muir provided documentation to the CIF-Southern Section office and sent truancy officers to Frazier’s current and previous residence to verify.
Dr. Charles Park, an assistant principal in charge of activities, was in communication with the Southern Section’s office, which finally informed Muir late in the week that not enough evidence was provided. By late Saturday afternoon, Muir came to its decision that it would forfiet nearly its entire season.
“After being alerted by CIF, Muir administration investigated and determined that a player on the boys basketball team was not eligible to play because a valid change of residence could not be sufficiently established,” said Muir principal Sherryl Orange in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, Muir decided to forfeit the games.”
“We’re shocked,” Muir coach Gamal Smalley said. “I know our administration worked really hard to make sure they could provide everything that CIF was asking for, and I thought they came close.”
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Muir made three tournament championship games, was ranked in the top 50 in the state and was 24-2 at season’s end, poised to continue its dream season with a strong playoff push in the so-called “Super Division” in which the Mustangs were seeded fifth. But Muir’s talents will not come to fruition in the playoffs where they hoped to prove its worth against perennial powerhouses like La Verne Lutheran and L.A. Price.
Frazier is the most physical player on the Mustangs’ roster, and his imposing presence was sorely missed in the two games he sat out last week. Muir needed needed a second-half rally at home to win the league title outright against Crescenta Valley, a team it beat by 20 in the first meeting with Frazier in the starting lineup. It was Muir’s first league title in over a deacde, but the celebration didn’t last long. By Friday afternoon, hope turned into doubt.
Muir’s lone loss in league came in the final game of the season against rival Pasadena, a game the Mustangs trailed by as many as 21 and lost, 71-53. By then, the outcome was all but certain.
“The PHS game was a reflection of everybody out of it because we knew it was not looking good,” Smalley said.
Muir officials exhausted every option, even applying for an at-large berth. It was denied by CIF on Sunday morning because the paperwork was not submitted by the Friday night deadline, coupled with the fact there were other eligible schools that did submit petitions on time. Muir faxed its paperwork Saturday evening.
Thom Simmons, a CIF-SS spokesman, would not get into specifics when asked about how CIF became involved or how it learned there were concerns over eligibility issues at Muir.
“Muir High School had an ineligible player that caused them to forfeit 20 games,” he said. “They were not submitted as an automatic entry from their league. That’s all I can say.”
Smalley, along with Orange, Park and Muir athletic director Robert Galvan, addressed the team and parents on Sunday afternoon.
“The reaction was a lot of sadness,” Smalley said. “A lot of angry parents, but united at the same time.”
Muir’s parents are not going down quietly. A team parent has formed a sub-committe to explore its options and form an appeal with the CIF State’s office about keeping its league title and possibly its record, too.
But the damage has been done.
Frazier was not his usual energetic self during Monday’s practice and appeared somber during an important week Smalley dubbed “Championship Week.”
“He’s been hurt,” Smalley said. “He’s feeling like he let the team down. He’s being apologetic to his teammates and trying to deal with it as best he can.”
Pasadena coach Tim Tucker, a childhood friend of Smalley, was sad about Muir’s abrupt ending. As for the Bulldogs holding on to their league title, it’s not how Tucker wanted it.
“It’s what I call a paper champ because they won the league,” Tucker said. “They beat us and they beat CV. It’s unfortunate for those kids, for the school and for my friend coach Smalley that they’re not the league champions and now missing the playoffs. It’s bad for the city.”
A clerical error underscores the ripple effect caused by state budget cuts. The Star-News has learned that Muir’s athletic budget has been cut by 30 percent over the last two years alone, and the school is on its third athletic director (on a part-time basis) in just four years. The last director left for a similar position at another district which paid a higher salary. Frazier’s transfer issue was brought to Muir’s attention only after CIF contacted Muir. That the school was made aware of it five months after Frazier’s transfer accentuates the need for structure in the athletic department.
As for Muir, it’s choosing to move forward and looks ahead to next year when it returns a strong nucleus that includes 6-5 junior guard Jelani Mitchell and 6-5 forward Taturs Mayberry.
“In the last week i’ve had 604,800 seconds of heartbreak,” Smalley said. “But I didn’t sign up for the Muir job just for the good times. I signed up knowing there were going to be challenges.
“I want to be there for my players now, my seniors as they matriculate to colleges and I want to help my underclassmen because if you thought we worked hard and accomplished a lot this year, you haven’t seen anything yet.”