Can't just change the rules
COLUMBUS -- One of the things I like about the Mahoning Valley is the people here are never afraid to say what they're thinking. They seem to carry that trait even after they've left.
Keith Snoddy, who led Youngstown State's football team to a pair of Division II playoff berths as quarterback in the late 1970s, is now the boys basketball coach at Triway High School, outside Wooster. After his team won a Division II state semifinal Friday over Columbus DeSales, Snoddy extolled the moral compass of his team.
"We have 4.0 students, 3.9 students," said Snoddy, nodding in the direction of two of his senior players, Linc Rottman and Jeff McCartney. "And they show up for the state finals." Cha-ching.
In eight words, Snoddy summed up what just about everybody was thinking, but hesitant to say, one day before.
A day of questionsleft unanswered
Thursday was "Hold the Mayo" day at Value City Arena.
Such is the state -- no pun intended -- of high school sports nowadays that the dominant story of the tournament was not who was here, but who wasn't.
O.J. Mayo, the junior from North College Hill High in Cincinnati who was earlier in the week named Mr. Basketball for the second consecutive year, was not permitted to play, or even attend, his team's Div. III semifinal against Archbold.
The reason for Mayo's absence was not explained. Rumors circulating the arena ranged from having a cell phone on school grounds (which is prohibited) to being involved in a fight.
He was not suspended, a school official claimed. And a short statement provided by the school's principal indicated neither the incident nor the length of Mayo's punishment.
After North College Hill easily dispatched Archbold, coach Jamie Mahaffey declined to answer questions about Mayo. In fact, when asked Mahaffey wouldn't even disclose his own feelings about playing the game without Mayo.
The school cited the student's privacy in not releasing further details. All of this would be understandable in almost every case. For North College Hill -- more so than Mayo -- I have a hard time generating any sympathy.
School gladlyaccepts the benefits
Mayo, through the luck of a deep gene pool and hard work, has made himself into the best high school junior player in the country. And he's generated a trail of adults hoping to cash in on his success.
North College Hill has played some of its games this year at college arenas in Cincinnati and elsewhere. It was offered large sums of money to move its home games to accommodate the large crowds.
The school accepted those offers and with it should have understood the increased attention it placed on itself and the basketball program.
To the best of my knowledge, North College Hill officials and its coaching staff did not reject interview requests, nor did they turn away cash-paying customers. Thursday, Mahaffey and school officials decided they could change the rules in the middle of the game.
There were several questions the school and Coach Mahaffey could have answered while still maintaining Mayo's privacy as a high school student.
We learned Friday that Mayo's "crime" was being late for a class. That's fine, but why couldn't the school or coach told us that? Instead of a school "matter" we could have simply been told there was a violation of school policy and Mayo had to sit.
But that leads to the next question: Doesn't the school have a standard policy for such issues? No one either knew or could say with certainty. When the school couldn't tell us Thursday whether Mayo would be available for the title game it only served to fuel the rumors.
The only evident truth in Thursday's postgame press conference came was Mahaffey's reason why he wouldn't make any comment: "I want to have a job when I get home." The rest bordered on the ridiculous.
"We always [have] a lot of issues with our team," said Mahaffey. "Maybe we draw attention to ourselves, but sometimes that stuff is not necessary to be put on these kids."
Sorry, you can't have it both ways. When you accept the adulation and handouts during the good times, you need to step up when the tough questions have to be answered.
XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.