For the first time, Southport High School publicly responded after officials banned the basketball team from the state tournament. Perry Township schools said the coach, Eric Brand, signed a check for a player from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect him.
On Tuesday during a press conference, the school said this is not a story about recruiting. Regardless, the Indiana High School Athletic Association, IHSAA, stood firm with the decision and called this an egregious violation.
In a more than 20-page appeal, the school district laid out their reasons for appealing IHSAA's decision to ban the basketball team from the state tournament. IHSAA said the school's violation is obvious. However, the school district said the situation is more complex.
"My hope is that human decency comes to play here, and people understand even if it was not done correctly it was done for the right reasons," said Brand.
On Tuesday, Brand explained why he signed a more than $5,000 check for a 15-year-old student-athlete.
"I thought maybe he is worried about if he is going to be deported, somebody from immigration is going to take him. And I just wanted to give him a stable environment," he said.
The school said a man brought a 15-year-old student from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to play basketball in the United States and that man tried to get the student on an F1 student visa. Southport High School said the man failed to pay the required reimbursement and eventually abandoned the teen in Perry Township.
Brand said a basketball boosters non-profit, that he oversees, raised enough money to pay for the student's F1 visa status and signed the check.
"I felt that if I raised the money and this young man could not this year play varsity basketball, I still don’t understand why we are being punished," Brand said.
The district said the student was never going to be on the varsity team this year because they do not grant that to students with F1 visas. The school said Brand did not benefit by signing the check.
IHSAA sees it differently. Commissioner Bobby Cox said this was tied to recruiting.
"This is overreaching by the coach. This is manipulation by the coach," Cox said.
Cox said the man who brought the student to the United States reported the incident to the association. Cox said they have Perry Township time to investigate.
When the district said they would suspend Brand for two games, Cox said that was not enough.
"This is one of the worst things that can happen in amateur sports is when a coach through a booster club pays the tuition of a student to attend his school for the purposes of playing basketball," said Cox.
The school said it was just trying to support a teen in crisis. Brand believes this punishment is unfair to his varsity team.
"They have worked hard the last 2 years that I have had them," he said.
The student still goes to school at Southport High and is staying with a teacher and his wife.
The appeal hearing is set for next Wednesday.