Amherst school officials allege Smith Voke coaches with illegally recruiting basketball players
Administrators at Amherst Regional High School have contacted the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association with charges that Smith Vocational coaches were on school grounds attempting to convince four Amherst freshman basketball players to transfer to Smith in violation of the MIAA’s rules that prohibit recruiting. The unauthorized presence on campus led to a lockdown.
According to Amherst Principal Mark Jackson, Scott Moses, a UMass student from Hauppage, N.Y., signed in as a visitor at Amherst Regional’s main office at 1:30 p.m. April 2 along with Jason Ruiz. Moses is the boys head junior varsity basketball coach and an assistant varsity basketball coach at Smith Vocational. Ruiz, according to Smith athletic director Jeff Lareau, “helps out” with the junior varsity program in an unofficial capacity.
Jackson said the two men asked the guidance department to have four freshmen boys, all members of Amherst’s freshman basketball team, pulled out of class, to fill out applications to attend Smith Vocational. When told that it was not Amherst policy to take students out of class, Moses and Ruiz declined an offer to leave the applications. They checked out of the main office at 1:43 p.m.
Jackson said the two men did not check back into the office when they returned to school later that day. When administrators learned that two visitors who could not be accounted for were on school grounds, they decided to implement lockdown procedures.
“If you have non-employees, without CORI (criminal background) checks with easy access to the student population, that’s a serious breach of security,” Jackson said. “Because it’s the end of the day, every student is in the hallway, so it’s as fluid and unstructured a situation as possible because any adult would have unfettered access to the students.”
The lockdown remained in effect for almost 45 minutes before school officials and the police who arrived on the scene could confirm that the men were no longer in the building.
Amherst administrators learned, from conversations with the players involved, that Moses coaches six Amherst players in AAU basketball, which is played outside of the school season. Athletic director Rich Ferro said it was from those conversations that Amherst officials were told that the players were being recruited to attend Smith Vocational.
“It was four male freshman basketball players. They were the only ones they asked for,” said Ferro, who was the former dean of students at Amherst Regional Middle School. He added that any student transferring to a vocational school after already starting high school is rare. “If you enter (vocational school) in ninth grade, you have a four-year track for whatever it is you’re going to specialize in. We almost never send kids as 10th-graders.”
Jackson sought to reach Smith Vocational officials on April 3 to address the incident, but said he did not receive a response.
“I assumed I would get a call back,” Jackson said. “To this day I haven’t heard from them. Maybe I’m interpreting the situation entirely wrong, but I put in a call and left a voicemail describing the circumstances. I think that at least merits a call back.”
Smith head varsity boys basketball coach Akara Holder said he was entirely unaware of the incident, but did not endorse recruiting of players from other schools. He said he did not even know who Ruiz is.
“I don’t have any knowledge of that situation,” Holder said. “You can’t ask kids to switch schools. But that’s not a conversation necessarily that I’ve had with Scott Moses.”
Lareau was aware Moses and Ruiz were planning to visit Amherst Regional at some point, but his understanding was they were interested in speaking to players about Moses’ AAU team.
Lareau said he did not know the coaches were at the school April 2, and only was notified about their presence after the lockdown went into effect.
“When (Amherst) went into lockdown, we were called for the names of the coaches,” Lareau said. “I then physically spoke to (Moses) on the phone. He said nothing about having paperwork for kids to sign.”
Lareau said he was not expecting anything further to arise from the coaches’ actions.
“This is the first I’m hearing about” an actual complaint, Lareau said. “I just saw Rich (Ferro) at the final (athletic directors’) meeting (Tuesday morning) and he didn’t say one word to me about them filing an official complaint. I honestly don’t know what Amherst is looking for, but if they’re putting in paperwork, there will definitely be some sort of investigation.”
Lareau said until a formal complaint is filed to the MIAA, Moses would not be available for comment.
Lareau said he does not know whether Moses went to the school to speak just to the six players on his AAU team or to recruit others for his AAU team.
“He is a young JV coach,” Lareau said. “I’ve specifically talked to him about not going into other schools anymore, but I don’t want this thing to be blown out of proportion.”
Immediately after the April incident, Lareau told Moses about the MIAA strictly forbidding recruiting of any kind inside a school building.
“From now on, I have to be informed by him or any other coach intending to visit another school, and then I will contact that school’s A.D. about arranging the visit,” Lareau said.
Smith Vocational Superintendent Jeff Peterson referred questions about the incident to Lareau.
Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, who serves on the Smith Vocational board of trustees, said Tuesday he had yet to hear anything about the incident.
“I’m a member of the Smith Voke board of trustees, not the chairman,” Narkewicz said. “If something was said to the (Smith Voke) administration, it hasn’t been forwarded to me at this point. So I honestly don’t know a thing about this and I have not spoken to anyone at Amherst.”
He added, “I’m interested in seeing it and understanding it more, but I can’t comment right now. Now that it’s been brought to my attention, I’ll be reaching out to the Smith Voke administration to see what it’s all about.”
Jackson said Amherst officials have spoken with the MIAA and sent a report Tuesday detailing the events.
MIAA assistant director Ned Doyle said he was in touch with Amherst officials briefly on Tuesday.
“I have yet to receive the correspondence (from Amherst), so I don’t know any details of what’s going on,” Doyle said. “I want to get the official complaint first before I say anything about it. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to guess about anything until I get to digest the allegations.”
The MIAA’s recruiting rules read as follows:
“44.1 — To maintain a proper relationship between the academic mission of schools and their athletic programs, all individuals in any way affiliated with a school must refrain from recruitment, inducement, or other forms of persuasion which would encourage an athlete to enroll in, or transfer to, a school.
“44.2 — A school shall be deemed to be in violation of the rule against recruitment if a representative or agent of the school or any group or individual associated with athletic programs of that school approaches an athlete and directly or indirectly attempts to persuade or induce the athlete to enroll in, or transfer to, that school.
“44.3 — Any attempt to place a student in a member school by any person for the purposes of enhancement of that student’s athletic development, or for increased exposure, shall be deemed to be recruitment.”
Penalties for a school judged to have been involved in recruiting are considerable.
“A school adjudged to have recruited any student will cause that school to be under probation in that sport or all sports for one calendar year from the date of the adjudication. Such probation will include ineligibility for tournaments and league championships in that sport or all sports during the period of probation. Penalty may be reduced by the Board of Directors or its designee.”
According to Ferro, none of the four players will attend Smith Vocational. The Gazette contacted one of the players, but he declined comment because he did not want to be publicly identified.
“I hope the final outcome is that we make sure things like this don’t happen again in the future,” Ferro said.