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Players back Permian coach - Odessa American: ECISD

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Players back Permian coach

Wright remains on administrative leave

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Posted: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 11:15 pm

Permian’s basketball team first met Tuesday with ECISD Superintendent Thomas Crowe to express support for embattled head coach Danny Wright and then read a prepared statement to the media saying blame for the forfeited season doesn’t rest solely on Wright.

A small crowd of mostly parents and players gathered for that statement that questioned if Wright was solely responsible for compromising Permian’s boys basketball season by allowing two academically ineligible players to compete. Should others have come forward before last Wednesday, when the Panthers boarded a team bus and departed for a first-round playoff game they were forced to forfeit?

That was addressed Tuesday by the team’s players, who read a prepared statement outside the Permian Fieldhouse to express support for Wright and also to spread the blame to other Permian coaches, teachers, campus administrators and even themselves.

Permian junior post player Jack Fawcett said senior teammate Robert Thomas emailed Crowe requesting a meeting between the administrator and team members, which happened Tuesday afternoon at Permian.

Crowe said the meeting was congenial. “I am so proud of the basketball players,” he said. “They were organized and professional in their approach to the meeting.”

Crowe said the meeting’s message was strong support for Wright. “They wanted me to understand what Danny Wright means to them and how he has helped them beyond basketball.”

Following that meeting, Fawcett addressed Permian Basin media with the team’s prepared statement, which he said was put together at the suggestion of Permian substitute teacher and Odessa attorney Gaven Norris. The players refused to take questions after the statement.

Norris emailed Permian Basin media Tuesday morning informing them of the team’s desire to hold a news conference. Fawcett read the prepared statement while accompanied by eight of his 11 teammates.

“Coach could have done more to prevent an ineligible player from playing,” Fawcett, speaking on behalf of the team, told reporters. “However, we know for sure that the blame does not stop or rest at his feet. There is plenty of blame to go around.

“We believe that other coaches and administrators here at Permian, and that the downtown ECISD office also failed us by not following the proper steps to make sure that this type of thing did not happen. We also share a portion of the blame and responsibility for our forfeited season and (district) championship. While they did let us down, and Coach Wright as well, he should not lose his job over this issue. It is important to us to let Mr. Crowe know that we stand behind our coach, our team, our school and our community. We will be further damaged by the termination of our coach, if that so happens.”

ECISD athletics director Todd Vesely said Tuesday night that Wright remains on paid administrative leave, and no change to his job status had been made since last Wednesday, when ECISD discovered Permian had used two academically ineligible players in multiple District 3-6A games and would be forced to forfeit its undefeated league championship as a well as a Class 6A bi-district playoff game against Arlington Martin.

Blake Feldt, Permian’s head football coach and campus athletic coordinator, said Tuesday that track and field coach Raul Sanchez discovered that the two basketball players were ineligible while he was checking the grade reports of his track athletes last Wednesday morning. Feldt said Sanchez first notified assistant head football coach Jeff Ellison, who then relayed the discovery to Feldt, who said he then notified Permian Principal James Ramage.

Feldt said neither he nor any of his assistant coaches were aware that the two basketball players were ineligible until Sanchez saw their grade reports last Wednesday. Feldt confirmed that the two ineligible basketball players were football players in the fall, and he said he and his coaching staff stopped monitoring their grades after the season ended in late November.

“Once they went over to basketball,” Feldt said, “we quit checking their grades because they were no longer playing football.”

Vesely said the head coach of each athletic team at Permian is responsible for ensuring that their players are academically eligible to compete. Wright said Tuesday that he “had no idea they were failing,” and declined further comment.

Jana Miller, the grandmother of Permian football and basketball player Javorian Miller, said she believes Wright would not knowingly use ineligible players and echoed the players’ sentiment that he should be allowed to return for a ninth season as the Panthers’ head coach.

Jana Miller’s son, E.J. Miller Jr., was a standout Permian athlete who graduated in 1998, and she also raised an eyebrow at the notion that no one on the Permian campus came forward about the ineligible players until last Wednesday.

Vesely said the players became ineligible in mid-January.

“If a teacher has a student that’s failing, there’s no way in the world that he could be an athlete here at Permian and the teacher’s not aware of it,” Miller said. “The teacher could have notified Mr. Wright.”

The players and their parents or guardians also figure to have known about their ineligibility before the Panthers completed a 10-0 run through District 3-6A. District play began Jan. 16 and ended Feb. 17.

Vesely, a former gymnastics coach at Permian, said teachers should not necessarily be expected to notify coaches when one of their players has a failing grade.

“There were other people that knew, but it’s not their responsibility or their job,” Vesely said. “They assumed the head coach checked their grades.”

Dessirie Berry and Pamela Thomas, the mothers of Permian players Robert Thomas and Anthony Calicutt, respectively, questioned the timing of last week’s discovery that the Panthers used ineligible players. Their first-round playoff game was originally scheduled for Feb. 24 and was postponed one day because of inclement weather.

Both the Permian and Arlington Martin teams were already on their way to Clyde High School, where the game was set to be played, when both Wright and Martin head coach Jeff Plemons were notified that the game would be forfeited and that both teams could return home.

“It’s a conspiracy to me,” Berry said. “It’s funny how they wait this long — they wait ’til they get to the playoffs — and then decide that, ‘Oh, somebody’s flunking.’ Then make them turn around like this.

“From what I’ve heard, it has something to do with football coaches not wanting their kids to play basketball in the first place.”

When asked about the notion that Wright could have been set up to fail by his fellow Permian coaches, Feldt said, “That is absurdity, and that is insanity.” Feldt also said he considers Wright a friend, and that their working relationship has been “fantastic.”

Questions remain, however, and among them is Wright’s future as Permian’s basketball coach. The Odessa High graduate has overseen one of the most successful eras in the history of the Panthers’ program — two seasons ago he guided them to their first district title since 1987 and first playoff victory since 1998 — but this marks the second time in five seasons that Permian had to forfeit district games.

Five years ago, when Permian placed fourth in District 2-5A and lost in the first round of the playoffs, it was later discovered that the Panthers had used a 22-year-old high school graduate posing as a 16-year-old sophomore. Permian had to forfeit its district games over the use of former Dillard (Fla.) High School player Guerdwich Montimere, who had moved to Odessa, claimed to be a Haitian orphan named Jerry Joseph and was taken in by Wright and his family before his true identity came to light.

Crowe said Tuesday night that he hadn’t yet decided whether or not to retain Wright as the Panthers’ coach. Crowe also said he would explore the entire situation including investigating all allegations and rumors. “I must look at all the issues,” he said.

One of the purposes of the players’ meeting with the superintendent was to voice their opinion, expressing how much the coach means to them on and off the basketball court.

“For us, Coach Wright is bigger than basketball,” the players said in their statement. “He is a friend, mentor and father figure for many of us on the team. And we truly do love him. We just hope that Mr. Crowe will completely look into the situation and make a decision based on all the facts and all the policies broken by several people at Permian.”

Former Permian football and basketball standout Greg Anderson, a 1986 graduate who now is an associate pastor at Greater St. John’s Baptist Church in Odessa, echoed that sentiment. He said he was on hand Tuesday to support the players, at least one of whom attends his church, and because he’s a concerned member of the community.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation all the way around,” Anderson said. “Coach Wright has taken responsibility. … He said he dropped the ball. He understands that.

“I think one of the problems is nobody else is stepping up. Nobody else is taking any responsibility. I think all the arrows are being pointed in one direction. But I think we should also be evaluating the system that let this happen.”

  • Follow Adam Zuvanich on Twitter at @OAZuvanich

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