Full court press: Miami judge hands top school basketball team a key win

To the cheers of team members and fans packing his courtroom, a Miami judge blocks a decision by a state athletic association that would have kept Florida's top-ranked team from the playoffs.

Wilfredo Lee/AP
The Carol City High School marching band performs on Jan. 17, 2011, in Miami. Though it is believed a Carol City student leaked information about Bryan Delancy's undocumented transfer to Krop High School, a Miami-Dade judge issued an injunction that will allow the schools basketball team to continue to play in division playoffs.

The Krop Senior High School basketball team won perhaps its most important victory of the season on Wednesday – and they did it without sinking a single shot.

After an hour-long hearing, a state judge blocked a decision by the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) that would have kept the state’s top-ranked high school basketball team from competing in post-season play in a case that revolved around one player’s eligibility.

Instead, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Spencer Eig issued an injunction that will allow the Miami team to compete in division playoffs and potentially the state championship.

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“I think it would be fundamentally unfair not to allow these students to play basketball,” the judge said.

Members of the team, students, and other supporters who packed the courtroom wearing the school’s colors, purple and white, gave the judge a standing ovation as he left the bench.

“The opportunity to play has been granted, and that’s all we asked for,” Krop High coach Shakey Rodriguez said after the ruling.

“It would have been devastating to not be able to play,” said senior point guard Cody Mann. “We deserve the right to play.”

Krop High has had a magical season. Their 20-3 record has them ranked No. 1 in the state. But the team’s championship aspirations came crashing down a few weeks ago when the FHSAA began investigating whether one of Krop’s players had submitted the proper paperwork to the association.

Senior guard Bryan Delancy, a Bahamian national, is required to register with the FHSAA any time he changes schools. His visa was issued to permit him to attend a particular school, Choice Academy in Miami, but last fall he transferred to Krop, a school that is a recognized basketball powerhouse.

His transfer paperwork was never filled out. FHSAA rules require that the student, parents, principal, and athletic director all sign and notarize an affidavit attesting that the transferring student was not athletically recruited to attend the new school.

The FHSAA rules are designed to prevent high schools from recruiting superior players from overseas. The rules are meant to ensure that high school athletes who travel to the US for education do not become targets for recruitment to other high schools.

At the hearing, Alan Goldfarb, a lawyer for Krop High, said the FHSAA investigation was initiated after someone at archrival Carol City High School “leaked the information” about Delancy to the FHSAA. He said the move was an apparent effort to push Krop High out of the playoffs and create a spot for Carol City.

The two teams met on Jan. 27. Krop won 65-49. But in deliberations behind the scenes at the FHSAA, Krop was in serious trouble. The association ruled in late January that the team would have to forfeit all 19 games in which Delancy had played. On Tuesday the FHSAA rejected an emergency appeal of its ruling by Krop.

Forfeiting the games would destroy their record and any chance of making the playoffs. In addition, it would penalize not just Delancy and the school officials who apparently failed to abide by FHSAA rules, but it would severely punish the 14 other members of Krop’s highly successful basketball team.

“We worked so hard, we deserved to continue to play,” said senior guard Brylan Kerr. After Wednesday’s court ruling, he called the legal controversy a minor setback. He said the team is highly motivated and can’t wait to start playing ball again.

Kerr said the team would be going directly from the courthouse to a team practice.

Judge Eig agreed that the FHSAA ruling seemed unfair to the other members of the team who had no part or knowledge of the reporting requirements.

Eig told Leonard Ireland, a lawyer for the FHSAA, that he did not intend to second-guess the judgment of the state athletic association. He said he was granting the injunction to allow more time for a more thorough examination of the underlying issues.

Ireland earlier filed a motion to have the case removed from the Miami-Dade courthouse to Gainesville, where the athletic association is headquartered. Eig rejected the motion, saying most of the events at issue in the case had taken place in Miami-Dade County.

The ruling sets up the prospect that Krop High may defeat others in the tournament and perhaps even win the state championship, only to be stripped of the title afterward by the FHSAA.

But the players weren’t thinking about that on Wednesday afternoon. They were already focused on the looming division playoffs and the enticing prospect of facing rival Carol City there.

RELATED: Sports in the US: Year-round madness

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