LEGAL CONCERNS: Can A HS Basketball Coach Be a Legal Guardian to Six of His Players?

This very unsettling story centering on Eastside HS boys basketball in Paterson NJ is just hard to believe.

But then again, perhaps in this day and age of amateur sports going off the tracks, maybe it isn’t.

That is, where there’s such pressure — and such a desire — to find and to develop top basketball prospects, perhaps what’s been happening at Eastside HS was inevitable. Even worse, chances are this kind of situation is not just happening in that school, but it’s probably happening all over the country.

Here are the very simple details. Eastside HS is currently 14-2, and is ranked 17th in New Jersey. It’s considered one of the premier powerhouse programs, and is in line for a top seeding for this year’s playoffs.

But according to some extraordinary reporting this past week from Matt Stanmyre and his colleague Steve Politi at Advanced Media.com, it turns out that the head coach at Eastside High – Juan Griles – has as many as 5 to 6 players living with him in his condo. Three of the players are from Puerto Rico….two or three are originally from Nigeria, including a kid who is a 7-footer. Griles says that he is legal guardian for several of the players, but so far has not produced any legal paperwork to document that.

And apparently all of these players, including Griles, live together in Griles’ relatively small 2-bedroom apartment. The kids attend Eastside, and play basketball on the varsity team.

DOES THIS SOUND EITHER RIGHT…OR FAIR?

If all of this is true, then this of course flies in the face of just about every possible sense of fairness that you can muster in HS basketball – especially public HS basketball.  We have become accustomed to private and parochial schools bringing kids in from all over the US, and from foreign countries. That’s routine. The students usually live with a host family, or in a dorm on the school’s campus. And their tuition, room, and board is paid either by their families or by the school.

But with public school, that’s a little different. Public schools depend on taxpayers to pay the bills, and obviously, it’s unusual to say the least that 6 kids from out of town are going to school and playing on the basketball team when their parents are not paying taxes for their education. In my mind, that’s probably where this investigation is going to start.

And of course, Coach Griles or his assistant Alberto Maldonado have to come up with some convincing evidence as to how they became legal guardians of these kids. In addition, who is paying for these kids’ food, health bills, clothing, and so on? And what role, if any, do their real parents have in all of this?

Matt Stanmyre was my guest on WFAN this AM, and the calls came quickly. Lots of listeners had real concerns about all of this, including how could this happen, who in the administration department at Eastside HS could allow this, what about all the other home-grown kids in the school who were displaced by these “imports” and so on. Most of all, callers were outraged by this blatant attempt to win at all costs.

Curiously, no one from Paterson, NJ called in. Perhaps they were too embarrassed by what has transpired, or perhaps this is something they have become accustomed to. Either way, it just seems – at least on the surface – to be outrageous. It’s as though the HS coach was recruiting top players from Puerto Rico and Africa to play on the local HS basketball team.

This investigation is going to continue over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be eager for more details. The NJ HS playoffs don’t begin until the end of February. But in the interim, there are going to be lots and lots of questions.

Meanwhile, who are the real victims? To me, the real losers are going to be the 5-6 kids who were living with the coach. I’m sure the NJ HS Athletic Assn. will immediately ban them from playing any more games, and it will be curious if they will be suspended from school as well. Where do they live then? And what happens to their basketball dreams?

All in all, a real lose-lose for everyone involved.