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Capital Prep: Their way and the wrong way

POSTED May 14, 2017
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

            Former Torrington High boys basketball coach Tony Turina remembers with grudging admiration newspaper comments St. Joe’s of Trumbull’s legendary boys basketball coach Vito Montelli made about about the issue of catholic school recruitment in the early 1990s.

            “In the article, Vito did not say he recruited for basketball players but that the school actively recruited the `best’ in every activity at St. Joe’s,’ said Turina.

            Turina didn’t like the answer but did appreciate the honesty of the answer.

            “It was one of the only times I have heard anyone be up front about the issue,” added Turina.

            Clearly there are no Vito Montelli’s at Capital Prep. The Hartford magnet school got outed last week by the Hartford Courant. Outed as in exposed as a school that does things their way, just not the right way.

            A sporting behemoth particularly in girls basketball where it earned national recognition and hadn’t lost a game in Connecticut for since 2012  until dropping a decision to Holy Cross in the Class L semifinals this March, Capital Prep always touted emphatically that its students, including athletes, were randomly selected in a lottery.  

            It was a party line never believed in high school sporting circles and the Courant laid waste to the claim with its investigative results. At least 10 student- athletes had bypassed the lottery and were guaranteed admittance since 2010 and according to the Courant,  “116 students were allowed to enroll at Capital Prep during the 2013-14, 2014-15 school years without winning seats through the lottery.”

            That’s a crooked system that goes against Connecticut Interscholastic philosophy and rules. Blatantly unfair to others who gone through the lottery and certainly galling to those opponents on the athletic whipping end of it all.

            While the CIAC has continually struggled to create a level playing field between the `schools of choice’ or `schools without boundries’ if you will the Capital Prep mess is clear example why the struggle is there in the first place. Money over ethics. Winning over ethics. Titles be glorified, honesty by damned.

            And let’s not be led down the “a lot of schools are doing it” as some sort of justification. One area athletic director told me recently that Capital Prep is just the current whipping boy and sited that kind of reasoning. Is it true? Undoubtedly. Is it right? Not quite.

            There is not a surefire investigative method to address the situation unless a paper like the Courant takes on the task. However, Berlin, paid a price for using a football player not living in district last year and most are not claiming to use a lottery method and then pointing to the process when a cargo plane full of Division I prospects just happen to get picked in that lottery.

            There is fuel to the Capital Prep fire and it is called attitude. While opposing coaches have taken their poundings and ground down their teeth in frustration and exasperation, Capital Prep hunkered down in the school bunker.

            Criticism and questions were met with disdain. Jealousy was mentioned. Former Principal Steve Perry denied wrong-doing and pulled out the race card, alluding to racial motivation as the impetus for some daring to doubt his school was running anything but a straight-up program.

            In the 2016 girls basketball pre-championship dinner held at the Aqua Turf in Southington once again the racial issue was reintroduced. In an ill-advised speech presented by a Capital Prep player the `Syracuse Eight’, football players in 1970 who sat out the season protest against racial inequality was brought up.

            References were made to a 50-point rule claimed to be `Capital Prep Rule’ about beating teams by more than that margin. Both Constitution State Conference President Jim Day and CIAC Director Karissa Niehoff refuted the claim.

            Claims were made about Capital Prep being unfairly moved moved up from Class S to Class L and once again Niehoff refuted the reasons and explanations given in the speech. Wrong venue, wrong information but certainly an insight into the Capital Prep mindset.

            This was never about race and yes you can point to the Canton `Trump’ chant but that was one episode from a group of non-thinking school fans. It is not the undercurrent of it all.

            There has been universal respect for the quality of talent Capital Prep has placed in playing venues. Football and all sports particularly girls basketball have been inarguably awesome. Championships tell a story and Division I players and All-Americans abound.

            Is there some jealousy here? You bet. Simple fact, nobody likes teams that win all the time. That won’t change. But it goes deeper.

            Get opposing teams off to the side and they don’t like the way Capital has gone about its business. I stood with a smoldering former Morgan School coach Joe Grippo after Capital Prep had smacked his team around in the 2013 Class S girls semifinals, 94-36.  He was effusive in his belief Capital ran the score up. He is not the only one.

            There has been a perceived arrogance with the Capital success.  But most of it has been the recruiting issue. Most opposing teams never believed the whole lottery explanation, the talent far outweighing the odds of that kind of talent being accepted under the lottery system.

            Listen to Thomaston High girls basketball coach Bob McMahon after his Bears lost to Capital Prep, 84-55, in the 2013 Class S final. 

            “Their (Capital’s) General Manager did a hell of a job,” said McMahon was a rather gigantic dose of sarcasm. “They put together a nice team.”

            What happen next in the sordid story is pretty hazy. Will they be forced to forfeit titles? Don’t hold your breath. Will the CIAC take an active role here? If as Capital Prep claims, it has discretion in bypassing the lottery procedure, what happens next? There are a whole lot more questions than answers here at this point.

            But, Capital Prep doesn’t get to set its own rules outside of CIAC mandates. Clearly they struggle with that concept. If they want to play their own game, fine. Do it outside of the CIAC and Connecticut sports. Then they can do it their way, which in recent years has been the wrong way.

            And along the way maybe they will figure out that nobody is thrilled with losing. But they dislike hypocrisy and dishonesty a lot more. That’s what this is all about.   

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