MSHSAA upholds penalties, but will revisit in April 2007

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Scott County Central coach Heeb still is suspended for the second semester, but the school may have its probation shortened.

Scott County Central superintendent Dr. Joby Holland and boys basketball coach David Heeb had mixed feelings about the action taken by the Missouri State High School Activities Association's board of directors on Wednesday.

The board voted unanimously at its regularly scheduled meeting "to uphold its previous opinions and actions" on a suspension for Heeb and probation for Scott County Central.

As it stands, Heeb may not organize or participate in open gyms and also is suspended from coaching in the second semester of the 2006-07 boys basketball season.

The probation for Scott County Central currently lasts three years -- and prohibits Heeb from organizing open gyms during that span -- but the board also placed the matter on the April 2007 agenda "to determine the suitability of granting the school an early discharge from its probation or any appropriate modifications."

Heeb and Holland took that decision as step in the right direction.

"For the first time, someone listened to us," Heeb said. "At the same time, I felt they could have opened up the discussion a little more. But for the first time, there were some people that listened to our side."

Added Holland: "They have changed the thought process to look at taking the sanctions off of us. They listened to us and allowed us to come up when they didn't have to. It was a step in the right direction."

But it was hardly closure for Scott County Central.

Heeb still is prohibited from coaching the Braves in the second semester of the coming season, including the state playoff series.

He led Scott County Central to a Class 1 district championship in his first season at the school. The Braves lost in the sectional round to Bell City, where Heeb had coached for five seasons through the 2004-05 school year.

He had led the Cubs to two state championships, in 2002 and 2004 and another final four appearance before taking the basketball and athletic director posts at his alma mater, which has won 12 state titles.

But in October of 2005, Bell City filed a complaint with MSHSAA that Heeb had talked to players and parents in attempt to get students to transfer to Scott County Central. Their complaint included statements from four players, the parent of another student and the details of attempted recruiting that came from a Bell City administrator.

A MSHSAA investigative committee report in November supported the claim, and a letter to Scott County Central in January from then-MSHSAA executive director Becky Oakes stated that after her review of the investigation committee's report, "it is my opinion that there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that a school violation of By-Laws 216 and 102 has occurred on this matter."

Scott County Central made an appeal at the board of directors meeting on April 8, but the board voted that Heeb "committed prohibited forms of persuasion or undue influence," according to a MSHSAA release following the meeting.

While Scott County Central officials said at that time the matter was closed, an investigation of Bell City by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education -- part of a pending case against the district for accepting state funds for nonresident students -- found that three of the four students who made allegations in the initial complaint lived in the Scott County Central school district.

With that and other new evidence Scott County Central officials presented to refute the initial allegations, they hoped to have the penalty phase revisited and all sanctions eventually dropped.

It wasn't on Wednesday.

"I still feel from the evidence we've gathered that everything should be dropped completely," Holland said. "I feel like we're innocent of all charges and everything should be waved off."

Holland said the school had been prepared to take legal action against MSHSAA prior to the latest airing of the case.

He expected the situation to be included in the July school board meeting, unless the board convenes sooner to discuss it.

"I will give a recommendation, but I would hate to jump out and say what that is at this point," Holland said. "Sometimes, you get emotional and angry, and if you sleep on things for a day or two, sometimes they look better.

"I can't speak for David. He may continue on."

Heeb hadn't made that decision as of Wednesday, saying he would probably talk to Holland more and weigh his options.

"It's not all right with me the way things are now," Heeb said.

"We are either telling the truth, or we're a bunch of liars, and I feel like that's what MSHSAA is saying to us," he added. "Going to court ought to be the last option to exonerate ourselves. The evidence is there.

"If they saw something today to reduce the probation by two-thirds, why isn't the penalty against me reduced. I don't want to be made an example of."

Holland and Heeb said the school has not yet received a response from MSHSAA to clarify vague areas such as weight room supervision or whether Heeb could attend a church-sponsored 3-on-3 tournament that the school hosted earlier this month.

"Our kids, for two months, haven't been able to lift weights and have only been to open gyms when coach Cookson can open it," Heeb said.

Ronnie Cookson, who stepped out of coaching in 1995 at Scott County Central after winning 12 state championships in 25 years, is considered a potential replacement for Heeb on the bench in the second semester of the upcoming season.

"We have a pretty good backup plan," Holland said.

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