For a Vancouver boys basketball team, an off-court issue sounds the season's final buzzer

A Vancouver junior boys basketball team's fine season has come to a disappointing end for players and people around them over a player eligibility issue.  (iStock - image credit)
A Vancouver junior boys basketball team's fine season has come to a disappointing end for players and people around them over a player eligibility issue. (iStock - image credit)

A Vancouver boys basketball team's hoop dreams have turned into a nightmare.

Parents, athletes and coaches of the Kitsilano Secondary School junior boys basketball team are devastated the squad's successful season has been cut short over an issue of player eligibility.

The team, made up of 14- and 15-year-olds in Grades 9 and 10, had a perfect 5-0 record to qualify for the Vancouver Secondary School Athletics Association (VSSAA) playoffs. Including tournament and exhibition games, their record was 24-8.

But due to a player's ineligibility, they were removed from the city-wide playoffs — ironically being held at Kitsilano Secondary — and extinguishes players' hope of playing in a province-wide best-on-best tournament at the end of the month.

Murray Titus/CBC
Murray Titus/CBC

"It feels horrible," said Joshua Cheer, a 15-year-old point guard. "This is our passion. We love playing basketball. And they just got rid of it for us."

Kirsten Meekison, mother of a player on the team, feels the decision was unfair.

"[My son] said 'I'm mad and sad,'" Meekison said. "As a mother, I could really hear the defeat in his voice."

Murray Titus/CBC
Murray Titus/CBC

The story offers a glimpse of the passion instilled in athletes, parents and coaches by high school sports — especially basketball, a marquee sport in many communities across B.C. — and the upset felt when that passion is crushed.

It also illustrates what are fairly ironclad rules for scholastic sports in the province, which aim to ensure a level playing field.

Exemption request, appeal denied

The issue is over a player who transferred to Kitsilano from another school at the start of the academic year.

An athlete who plays a sport at their former school within 12 months of transferring to the new school can't play that sport at the new school for 12 months after transferring.

There are exceptions for compassionate grounds or extenuating circumstances.

Murray Titus/CBC
Murray Titus/CBC

Because he played basketball in their old school, he was ineligible to play at Kitsilano.

Since Kitsilano played him through the season, they broke the rules and VSSAA kicked them from the playoffs "to ensure all schools and teams have a fair opportunity to play and compete."

"We didn't recruit this kid. He moved to his catchment school, I didn't know him in October," coach Kenny MacIntyre said.

"He's not Michael Jordan. He's not Kobe Bryant. He's just a kid from the neighbourhood who wants to play basketball."

In January, Kitsilano requested an exemption from B.C. School Sports, the governing body for high school sports in this province. It was unsuccessful, as was an appeal.

That led to the team's sudden removal from this weekend's city-wide playoff tournament.

MacIntyre feels the rules are being too harshly enforced. He asks why a compromise can't be reached that lets his team keep playing.

Rules clear, governing body says

But B.C. School Sports says the rules on transfer players are clear and accepted through most of North American high school sports.

"It's really sort of just aligned with the educational values and intentions of school sports," said Jordan Abney, executive director of the organization.

"It's meant to sort of disincentivize against sort of athletically motivated transfers. That's not necessarily what we're about with school sports."

Abney said under B.C. School Sports' policy, the team will forfeit the games the ineligible player participated in.

MacIntyre says the playing of the ineligible athlete was an oversight.

Parents and athletes are generally turning their ire to administrators within the school district.

A district spokesperson says its employees had to follow the rules set out by B.C. School Sports on this matter.

"Due to privacy reasons, we cannot get into the specifics about staff ramifications," the district wrote in an email.

Cheer says regardless of who is to responsible, it's the team who is losing out.

He says no one in the locker room is blaming the player in question. "He deserves to play here too," he said.

"It's so unfortunate because we put in so much work and effort."