SOUTHPORT, Ind. (WTHR) — The Indiana High School Athletic Association announced penalties Monday against the Southport basketball program for "violations of undue influence."
The IHSAA is removing the Southport boys basketball program from this year's state tournament.
A player, Nickens Paul Lemba, has been ruled ineligible, and the entire athletic department is on probation for the next year.
Southport has suspended boys head basketball coach Eric Brand for the first two games of the upcoming season.
The penalties follow an IHSAA investigation of Lemba and Brand.
Representatives from Southport and Perry Township Schools met with IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox and staff Nov. 13 at the IHSAA to discuss the investigation.
The school system sent a letter to the IHSAA on Nov. 15 acknowledging wrongdoing and outlining sanctions the high school intended to implement to address the violations, which the IHSAA supported:
- Southport High School Head Boys’ Basketball Coach Eric Brand has violated Rule 20‐1 of the IHSAA by‐laws by providing a tuition payment to Perry Township Schools in the amount of $5,548.00 on behalf of student Nickens Paul Lemba, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Perry Township Schools accepted the tuition payment on behalf of Nickens Paul Lemba in order to remain compliant with U.S. immigration law and meet requirements of an F‐1 student. Rule 20‐1 says "the recruitment or attempted recruitment of a prospective student, through the use of undue influence is prohibited. Undue influence is the act of encouraging or inducing a prospective student to attend a school for athletic purposes." In Lemba's case, the tuition payment violated the IHSAA rule.
The IHSAA added the following sanctions:
- The Southport High School athletic department is placed on probation for 365 days. This probation is a severe type of warning. It is official notice that unacceptable and serious violations have occurred, are a matter of record and future, similar incidents will not be tolerated.
- The IHSAA accepts the suspension of Head Coach Eric Brand by Southport High School for the first two contests of the 2019‐20 season. The IHSAA wrote, "The suspension falls woefully short of the expectations of the IHSAA from its voluntary member school."
- Southport High School student Nickens Paul Lemba is declared ineligible for the 2019‐20 school year.
- Southport High School is hereby removed from the 2019‐20 IHSAA Boys’ Basketball Tournament Series.
Southport can appeal the IHSAA's sanctions under the organization's bylaws.
Perry Township responded to the IHSAA's ruling, saying they're disappointed and will evaluate the appeal process.
Perry Township Schools and Southport High have been cooperative and fully transparent throughout the IHSAA investigation. We are disappointed in the Commissioner’s findings and will evaluate our right to appeal portions of the report and penalties.
Student safety, academic success, and compliance are the primary goals of our schools. In this case, we believe the high school’s actions were consistent with those values, and we will continue to move forward in full compliance of IHSAA rules.
The school is scheduled to open the season Nov. 26 against Perry Meridian. Southport is also listed as a host site for the Boys Sectional Tournament in March 2020.