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A Hummel Report Investigation

Wrestling for Answers

This week: Two high school honor students caught in a bureaucratic vacuum that has kept them from wrestling the entire season - in a year when their team is competing for a division title. Jim Hummel sorts it all out with the students (one is the team captain),  their principal, and the head of the interscholastic league, who tries to explain a rule and a decision that have left many baffled.

To see the Dr. Pilkington 2/6/2012 letter click HERE.

To see the Dr. Pilkington 12/22/2012 letter click HERE.

To see the joint statement click HERE.

To see the full text of Article 3 click HERE (source document at www.riil.org).

To see the relevant portion of Article 3 click HERE

SCRIPT

It has been quite a transformation over the past three seasons: The Hope High School wrestling team began the year confident it would be in the hunt for a Division 2 title - something that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Xavier: ``I started wrestling my freshman year. First season, first practice. I was in.''
Junior Xavier Lopez is one of the big reasons why, as two years ago he starting to bring others at Hope in to build a team.

Xavier: ``The wrestling team was basically nothing before we came here.  It was just a group of kids that came to just basically hang out. We received new coaches and then we came in and we built the team up the ground up.''

But last summer Xavier and teammate Jonas Xiong, who were both involved in ROTC at Hope and wanted to go into the medical field, were accepted to The Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College - a brand new charter school located on the fourth floor of this building in downtown Providence. The school is aimed at those wanting to become nurses. In the boys' case, military nurses.

But what about continuing to wrestle for Hope - as the small new charter school did not have a team?

Xavier: ``That was one of my first questions I asked - at the open house for the school - because I knew I didn't want to give up wrestling. I didn't want to give up my sports that basically made me as the person I am now.''

Hummel: ``And what did they tell you?''

Xavier: ``And they told  me, `Yeah, it should not be a problem, we're going to have an affiliation with interscholastic league and I would be able to wrestle.''

But just as the season began, the Providence School Department administration told Xavier and Jonas told they couldn't wrestle for Hope - because of where they lived in the city, even though they had attended Hope for two years. The department pointed to a Rhode Island Interscholastic League Rule that talks about a student's ``feeder'' school - based,  it said, strictly on address.

And that means Xavier - Hope's captain - has had to watch a team he helped build - from the sidelines; seeing opponents he beat last year win their matches. Jonas has faithfully taken pictures at each of the meets, also barred by league matches wrestling for Hope.

Hummel: ``You see the season ticking away, how has that been for you?''

Jonas: ``It's frustrating, you know watching my team out here, not being a key player to the team is horrible.''

Hummel: ``The administration that based on where he lives, Xavier should be wrestling for Central High. The only problem: Central doesn't have a wrestling team. So the administration said he could practice with his Hope teammates and maybe wrestle in some meets - but any of the points he scored wouldn't count.

Hummel: ``When you sit out there and watch it, what is that like for you.''

Xavier: ``It's terrible. I mean ever since I came in as a freshman I  was the leader of this team. Team - they grew up with me basically. They were like my little gang, we came to school and we all stuck together. Kids who had no friends before came to the wrestling team because the wrestling team was a place kids could go if they felt left out, if they had any problems outside of school and we  came and we accepted anyone that wanted to learn. Anyone that wanted a better...what we call family.''

Because of his address, Jonas would have to wrestle for the Juanita Sanchez school. Sanchez, though,  doesn't have a team of its own and has partnered with Providence Country Day - a private school in East Providence. For Jonas, the logistics were daunting.

Hummel: ``If you were going to say, okay, I'm going to do it, how would it have worked?''
Jonas: ``I don't think it would have worked, it's just too far for me to travel.''

Pilkington: ``I never ran into this problem before.''

Dr. Robert Pilkington is the superintendent of the new Nurses Institute, and has been a charter school superintendent for 15 years. Pilkington wrote an impassioned letter to Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi in December saying the decision made no sense.
Pilkington got nowhere.

Pilkington: ``For the first time something really curious happened. We had two different placements for kids. The first was an academic placement,  and that's Hope. There's no one that I've talked to, besides the people who were looking at interpreting and enforcing their own rules.  The reasonable man on the street, no matter who they were, whether they were board members, friends, parents, other teachers in the building; everyone said there was something wrong with this. There was something inherently wrong with the decision.''
The superintendent's office closed ranks after the Hummel Report began to investigate last month, and coaches and administrators were told not to talk publicly with us about the case. The administration said  it had no option in the matter and was simply following interscholastic league rules. Supt. Lusi refused our repeated requests for an interview to talk about the case.

Pilkington says Lusi, and the district's Athletic Director - Andre Thibeault - dropped the ball initially by not going to bat for the boys with the interscholastic league, and looking beyond an address on a piece of paper.

Pilkington: ``I would  be loathe to state that as the superintendent of this district Ii did not have complete authority and control over student placement within this district and it could be dictated by an outside entity.''

Hummel: ``And that's what happened.''

Pilkington: ``Essentially, that is what happened.''

Mezzanote: ``It's a funny business that we're in and it's a very personal business that we're in but we do have rules - rules that are specifically designed to keep things on a level playing field.''

Tom Mezzanote is the executive director of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. He says the so-called transfer rule used in this case is aimed at keeping students - and coaches - from arbitrarily picking and choosing where kids play sports if they go to another school.
Hummel: ``If they decided in mid-year - you know the charter school is not for us, we really don't want to be here, we want to go back, they wouldn't go to Central or Sanchez, they'd go back to Hope. So why is Hope not the feeder school in the league's eyes?''

Mezzanote: ``Because the Providence School Department stipulates what the feeder school  is by the address that they live at. We leave that to the school department to determine where that child  will attend.''

Hummel: ``But in this case you're telling the kid, you can't wrestle for Hope, Central is by your map where you wrestle but I'm sorry they don't have a team and you can wrestle for  them but we're not guaranteeing you anything. What would give that kid an incentive to continue. And in fact it's been a disincentive because...he's gone to meets and it's `I'm sorry we're all committed.  And you're not on a team...' So he gets in shape and he has nobody to wrestle.''

Mezzanote: ``So what you're talking about is a unique circumstances.''

Two weeks ago - after we began investigating - Pilkington sent this letter to the superintendent saying he was not going to be silent any longer and intended to talk with us for this story. Within hours Mezzanote contacted the School Department suggesting the boys come in for an emergency waiver hearing.

So Jonas and Xavier arrived two days later and after an hour-long meeting behind closed doors at the interscholastic league offices, were granted a waiver to wrestle at Hope. But it's a Pyrrhic victory. With just a few meets left this year Xavier and Jonas are nearing the end of a lost season.

Supt. Lusi and the Interscholastic League issued a joint statement this week, insisting in bold print that the school department did nothing wrong.

Robert Pilkington takes issue with that assessment.

Hummel: ``Who do you hold more culpable?''

Pilkington: ``Providence School Department.  Without hesitation. There was plenty of time for cooler heads to prevail - and to see this as a situation where boys playing for the team they had been on for two years does not somehow mean that there is an injury to the athletic system by unfair recruitment practices. If anything they were playing for the team they had played for and there was no recruitment at work.''

Xavier: ``Anything you learn in sports you apply to your real life. There was times in school I haven't always been the best student, I had a couple of low grades, but once I learned how to push myself, both physically and mentally in wrestling, I could do it in school and I was able to say, `Yeah, I have a lot of homework or I have a lot of class work but I have to push through and do this.'''

Pilkington: ``It became very easy to say, `It is what it is and it didn't work out,' when you don't have kids in your life every day.

In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.

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