MIDVALE Three basketball players who moved to Utah from Mexico to attend the American Leadership Academy were not recruited by the coaches or staff of the school.
That's what a hearing panel for the Utah High School Activities Association ruled Monday after a two-hour hearing examined the circumstances under which three different students transferred to the Spanish Fork charter school.
One of the students transferred to Utah two years ago and is now a senior. Two others transferred this summer, and what raised suspicion was the fact that a club basketball team coached by ALA head coach Joel Martinez played in a tournament in the same city in Mexico that one of the boys lived in.
But the fact that the school has had three players from the same general vicinity in Mexico is simply a coincidence caused by the fact that the students have a mutual friend who attended ALA last year.
"There is no evidence they were recruited," said UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner after the panel took just a few minutes to make the decision.
ALA principal Rob Muhlestein was happy about the decision and hoped fans would respect the panel's findings. Apparently some players from some of the teams ALA has played have refused to shake hands with the student-athletes, and fans have yelled racial slurs at the players during games. One boy said people had twice thrown snowballs at them and told him to "go back to Mexico."
The issue has apparently been percolating in Region 14 for some time, but even those administrators who asked the panel to look into the matter said they didn't blame the players for any problems, nor did they want them to be punished.
The problem seems to be tied to two things Martinez's trip to Mexico with a club team and the fact that the three boys in question had a mutual friend in Tino Para who graduated from ALA last spring.
David Armendariz, now a senior, said his mother was a college friend of Para, who graduated from ALA last year. When his parents split, Armendariz told Para via the Internet that "my life sucks right now." That's when Para, who is now playing college basketball, suggested that Armendariz move to Utah and attend ALA. Para had posted pictures on his My Space page of the ALA team in last year's 2A tournament.
Sophomore Raul Delgado also knew Para but did not know Armendariz as they lived in different towns. Delgado said he also saw Para's Web site and, after talking with his parents about moving to Utah, decided to do so last summer. The issue with Delgado is that because he had not established his high school eligibility anywhere, school officials were not aware that he was not living with his mother, who not only came to school to register him but also attended a number of school events.
A third student who transferred in the summer but withdrew from school after suffering a knee injury the last week of December was not at the hearing so officials couldn't question him about how he heard about ALA. He told Muhlestein and coach Martinez that his family's insurance didn't cover medical treatment here in the U.S. so he moved to Texas with his family and was being treated in Mexico. Because he moved to Utah with his parents, he would not have had to fill out transfer papers to attend ALA.
In Armendariz's case, Muhlestein said he simply fell through the cracks because school officials thought he was living with his mom, and federal laws prohibit how much they can delve into a student's home life.
"I can't ask him certain questions about his status here," said Muhlestein. "Public schools have to educate students regardless of their status."
Because he was living with his mother when he first enrolled, officials overlooked the fact that he didn't have junior high transcripts. He didn't need them for athletics because he didn't participate in any fall sports.
"He was a first-entry kid," Muhlestein said, acknowledging that the school would likely push harder for transcripts as that might have helped alert school officials to the fact that he was a foreign student and therefore had to fill out transfer papers.
Van Wagoner said the school wasn't punished for the problem because, "They didn't know that. Whatever happened was done innocently."The hearing panel did not find any of the players ineligible as they acted in good faith and did what was asked of them.
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