AURORA | Paragon Marketing Group — the owner and operator of the DICK’S Sporting Goods High School National Tournament — has accepted some of the blame for the controversy earlier in the week in regards to the Regis Jesuit girls basketball team.
Rashid Ghazi of Chicago-based Paragon, which runs the April 3-5 national championship tournament scheduled to be played at Madison Square Garden and other venues in New York City, said his organization should have given the Colorado High School Activities Association more lead time rather then 24 hours it had to deal with the situation.
Coach Carl Mattei’s Regis Jesuit team, which is 24-2 and undefeated in Colorado going into the Class 5A state semifinals Thursday night, received an official invitation to the nationally televised tournament on Monday, but was unable to accept it by the Tuesday deadline because it violated a standing CHSAA bylaw that prohibits teams from playing beyond the end of the “competitive season,” which ends Saturday with the state championship game.
“I wanted to make it clear on their end, we asked for a really quick turnaround time,” Ghazi said Wednesday. “Sometimes we look at a long window, but in this case it was just 24 hours. We didn’t even speak to the association directly, so in defense of them, they had to make a quick decision and we knew they would have to waive some of their rules.
“When the tournament is over in April, my hope is that we can have a conversation with them. Hopefully the groundwork has been laid for having a Colorado team in the future.”
Other states such as Utah and Washington have been able to issue waivers to allow teams from their states to play in the tournament, but in Colorado, it requires a vote of the membership to change a bylaw according to CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann.
A proposal to change the bylaw would have to be submitted at a CHSAA Board of Control meeting — in this case the nearest one is April 28, well after this year’s tournament is over — and more than half of the membership would have to vote to approve it.
Ghazi said part of the problem stemmed from the fact that the selection committee tracked the teams it considered throughout the season, but couldn’t project how its potential invitees — included Regis Jesuit, which suffered two losses playing a very competitive slate of eight games outside of Colorado — would finish up the season.
When it became clear they wanted the Raiders, the school was contacted first and then the state organization, with basically a day before a decision was needed.
As for playing as a club team, which many have suggested as an option and one that CHSAA said would have been possible for the Raiders, it’s not in the spirit of the tournament for a variety of reasons Ghazi explained.
“There are a number of states that told us teams could play as a club team, some states will allow them to come without their head coach and others want them to just change uniforms, even though its technically still the high school team,” Ghazi said. “It creates all kinds of issues for us. How do we refer to the teams without mentioning their school and how do we refer to their records and what they’ve done? In our long term goal strategy, we want to pull teams in the right way.
The four teams that will battle it out for the national championship now are Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) — ranked No. 10 in USA Today’s Super 25 — No. 18 Miami Senior (Fla.) plus unranked Freemont (Utah) and Edgewater (Orlando, Fla.).
“If Regis Jesuit had been able to play, they would have been our highest-ranked team in the field,” Ghazi said of the Raiders, ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s most recent rankings and includes two Gatorade Colorado Players of the Year in Justine Hall, who won this season’s award Thursday, and last season’s recipient, Diani Akigbogun.
According to Ghazi, the four girls teams and eight boys teams competing in the tournament receive all expenses-paid trips (including accommodations, meals and shuttle service to various sites such as the Statue of Liberty and 9/11 memorial), plus the state organization they represent receives a total of $10,000. Some state organizations take the money and use it, others decline it completely and some request the money be donated to a charity in its state.
“Money’s never been the driver, it’s been more about the state’s opportunity that we’re providing their boys and girls basketball teams and the uniqueness of the experience,” he said. “It’s not just about that one team, they are able to represent the school and state they are from on a completely unique level.”
The tournament won’t be without Aurora connections, however.
Former Regis Jesuit boys star Josh Perkins is scheduled to play in the boys tournament along with his Huntington-St. Joseph Prep team out of West Virginia, the No. 5 ranked boys team in USA Today’s rankings.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel