ST. LOUIS – The governing body of Illinois high school athletics put two boys basketball coaches on probation and imposed other sanctions for what the group’s chief called “an ugly and embarrassing incident” during the state championship game last month.
The Illinois High School Association’s action Wednesday followed its investigation of events during and after Harrisburg’s victory March 9 over Seton Academy of South Holland in the Class 2A championship, marred by what the IHSA said was questionable conduct by a player and an obscene outburst by one coach.
Some of the questioned conduct followed the first-half ejection of Seton Academy’s Mark Weems Jr. after he was whistled for his second technical foul, the last for making contact with an official.
In the tunnel during halftime, IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said Weems’ coach, Brandon Thomas, “delivered an obscenity-laced tirade in the presence of student-athletes,” then initially refused to participate with Harrisburg coach Randy Smithpeters in an effort by tournament officials to quell the situation.
“When [Thomas] eventually appeared, his demeanor made it clear that he would not be a conduit for positive change,” Hickman said. “There is no place for that type of behavior in high school athletics, and no outcome of a high school sporting event warrants it.”
After the game, Hickman said, Thomas snubbed offers of congratulations from the IHSA’s directors and Gov. Pat Quinn, threw the runner-up medal to an assistant, exited the court and had a verbal confrontation with a fan before being restrained by security and police from entering the stands.
Hickman said Smithpeters “crossed the line early in the game with his actions toward the game officials” and should have been issued a first-half technical foul for blatantly stepping out of his coach’s box.
“His behavior set a negative tone for the players and fans and contributed to a hostile environment that only grew worse during the first half,” Hickman said.
The association banned Smithpeters, the school’s assistant principal, from postseason coaching next season, unless he completes a behavioral-training program. Thomas received a two-year postseason ban. Both coaches are on probation for next school year.
“This was an ugly and embarrassing incident,” Hickman said in a statement, insisting that both schools and the officials “all share in the blame for the outcome.”
“We also recognize that the IHSA needs to be more proactive in dealing with on-court behavior and conveying the expectations for appropriate conduct to the players, coaches and officials participating in our events,” Hickman added.
Smithpeters and Thomas did not immediately reply to telephone messages and emailed interview requests left Thursday by The Associated Press.
The loss of Weems, who finished with eight points, gave Harrisburg momentum. Harrisburg, down 23-15 when Weems was tossed, took advantage and made all four technical free throws plus a layup on the inbounds pass to close the gap. They went on to build leads as big as seven points and withstood two Seton Academy runs.
However, Hickman commended Seton Academy senior Kamal Shasi, who despite disappointment about the loss gathered his teammates to line up for the postgame handshake, at times physically pulling dejected teammates off the bench.
The game’s officials were assessed unspecified reprimands for failing to enforce the bench conduct rule during the game, Hickman said.
“Officiating is a tough job and a state championship is a big stage,” Hickman said. “We understand the officials’ train of thought is to try and let the teams play, but all these factors came together and things boiled over in the first half before they were able to rein the game in.”