Sports

Foul Called on Mountaintop Basketball Program

d06ad5c257aaa382f7cf_6469430eac8729021871_Mountaintop_League.jpg
d06ad5c257aaa382f7cf_6469430eac8729021871_Mountaintop_League.jpg

WEST ORANGE, NJ – The Mountaintop League Basketball program is under scrutiny after some coaches claim basketball league trustees acted improperly in the placement of certain players on teams in the middle school boys division.

When the final buzzer went off at the Mountaintop League’s Championship Sunday, March 20, the Clippers had bested the Suns, 52-27, to win the In-House Middle School (6th-8th) Boys Championship.

But the battle over that game has continued behind the scenes, with allegations of improper procedures, questionable decisions and a lack of communication by the trustees of the MTL basketball program to coaches, players and parents.

Sign Up for E-News

The problem arose when some registered players did not confirm their intent to play in time for the annual draft, in which coaches choose their teams for the season in a manner similar to what NFL and other league drafts do. One by one, each player was chosen on the basis of ability to join a team by that team’s coach.

Of the 12 boys who had not submitted their commitments, all but two boys were contacted and accounted for and added to the draft pool before the draft happened. The two in question, brothers, could not be reached to confirm they were playing, as they could not communicate on a Saturday due to religious reasons. Therefore they were not available to be “drafted” at the event and were not listed in the pool.

The day following the championship game, Nayan Lassiter, the Suns’ coach, wrote the overseeing board of the Mountaintop League to voice his concern that two of the players that saw action in the championship game for the Clippers were never part of the draft and should not have been playing all season, let alone in the playoffs. Lassiter said he was unaware of their addition to the roster until he was alerted to the situation by players from other teams at the championship game.

“When I got home, I checked my draft notes and original team rosters,” said Lassiter. “Sure enough, these two kids were not on the Clippers team in the beginning of the season. They were not on the final roster of teams sent out by MTL and they were not in the draft at all. I was livid.”

In addition to the extra players, Lassiter also questioned how two exceptional players ended up on the same team. MTL protocol is to have as even a playing field as possible, with all skill levels on a team. The Suns coach said the Clippers already had the number one player in the draft. He felt adding another very skilled player to the team was an unfair advantage.  

In an interview with TAP, Suns assistant coach David Haden agreed with Lassiter. “The added kid (one of the two) should have been a top-five player in the league -- he shouldn’t have been on the same team with other first-round draft pick,” said Haden. “He wasn’t on the final roster and shouldn’t have played at all.”

Haden added, “I’m disheartened that these things would go on and not come to light, that we had no idea that these decisions were made.”

Lassiter charged that one trustee overseeing the basketball program made decisions on his own to place the children, first on his own team, and then on the Clippers, and questioned how one person could unilaterally make that decision.

Mark Robertson, a long-time soccer and recreational basketball coach, has been a trustee in the basketball program for over four years. He said he takes full responsibility for adding the extra players to his team sharing that after all the teams were created, it became apparent that the two boys should have been eligible to play.

“I temporarily took them on my team (the Nets) as a stopgap measure so the boys could be part of the league,” said Robertson. “They attended two practices with the team.”

“We could have waitlisted them,” he said, “but that would have meant they would have missed the entire pre-season and practices and some early games.” Robertson said that option meant that parents who already paid $75 per child to have their children play basketball, would have had their child/children possibly miss out on playing.

Addressing Lassiter and Haden’s assertions that one of the boys would have been a first-round pick, he said statistics on the boy who had played the previous year showed that in that season he was an average player and wasn’t a standout or star player.

Robertson added that in December, all the trustees had a decision to make on what to do with the players – waitlist them, put them in a lottery where they could have gone to any team, keep them on his Nets, or place them with the Clippers, where one of the players had worked with the same coach the year before.

During that timeframe, Robertson claims the trustees exchanged emails and had conference calls, but did not physically meet to discuss the problem as it was the holiday break and many people had family commitments.

There, he said, he also takes responsibility for a second mistake in that he misunderstood what he thought the trustees wanted to do in all that communication. According to Robertson, he favored a player lottery, which he says was voted down. But he says he misunderstood a vote that the trustees wanted to keep the players on his Nets team, and instead he moved the players from his team to the Clippers.

According to Robertson, just as the season began, the trustees formally voted to keep the boys on the Clippers, where they had already been practicing and getting ready for the season. MTL says that was several weeks after the votes in December.

While that decision may have been made, one of the biggest complaints from the coaches is that the decision was never communicated to the league at all during the entire season.

James Winfrey, coach of the Hawks, questioned why the decision to place the two boys with any team wasn’t made clear to all of the coaches in the league. “As a coach, I believed we were all operating by the same set of rules, that we were all on a level playing field,”

Robertson admitted, “This is where the ball was dropped. It was a group sin of omission that the trustees did not notify the coaches.” But he added, “It wasn’t an active cover-up….it simply was a group sin of omission” that no one told the coaches.

Mountaintop League Board President Peter Scalora said an investigation into the matter is still on-going. The MTL Board oversees all the sports, which means that they were unaware of any day-to-day actions or problems with player placement until the issue was brought to them by Coach Lassiter.

In a communication to the coaches, Scalora said the situation was caused “by a series of unfortunate decisions made with the best of intentions for all kids involved,” primarily that all the boys get to be part of the league.

He added, “While in hindsight we can judge the process as messy and poorly communicated, there was absolutely no malice on anyone’s part, or a conspiracy, to win a middle school championship. Every action was taken with the best of intentions to ensure every West Orange child who wanted to play basketball was given an opportunity to do so.”

Lassiter said he feels that the way the entire incident was handled sends the wrong kind of message to kids who he feels saw how not playing by the rules might result in a championship. “I would like to see the Suns players given championship trophies as well for playing all season by the rules,” he said.

Robertson agreed that the incident was mishandled, and said he is “absolutely OK with issuing a formal apology to the coaches, players and parents who make up the league.” He added that poor communication among trustees and a lack of consistent process added to the problem.  

“This is not an excuse,” he added. “We apologize to the coaches and kids impacted by the chain of events. I’d ask that all please remember we are volunteers with families and work and we’re stretched thin.”  Robertson said he invites others who want to step up and be a volunteer trustee to consider it. The basketball program is allowed to have up to five trustees.

Robertson said that proposals in front of the trustees for consideration moving forward include a more consistent draft policy to address those who miss evaluations, regular trustees meetings, majority vote by the trustees regarding special circumstances, and notifying coaches and parents about any rule or team changes on the website and via e-blast, so this situation never happens again.

Scalora said the MTL Board will be meeting later in April. TAP will continue to follow the story and provide updates as they happen.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

West Orange

Lola's Buy 1 Regular Soft Serve Cone or Cup, Get One 50% Off With Coupon

May 26, 2018

FAIRFIELD, NJ - Lola's Ice Cream and Sweet Shoppe is offering Buy One Regular Soft Serve Cone or Cup, Get One 50% Off with coupon. Lola's Sprinkles are always FREE! 

The coupon expires on June 18, 2018, and coupon offers cannot be combined. All guests must present this coupon to redeem.

Lola's Ice Cream and Sweet Shoppe is located at 244 Route 46 East ...

Free Flavors Soft Serve Ice Cream (Jr. Cup or Cone) With Coupon

Fairfield, NJ - Flavors Homemade Ice Cream is offering a FREE soft serve ice cream (jr. cup or cone) when you spend $10 or more with coupon.

Flavors Homemade Is located at 653 Rt 46 West (1.98 mi) in Fairfield, New Jersey 07004 next to Jose Tejas.

*Homemade Ice Cream

*Italian Ice

*Gelato 

*Fresh waffles 

*ice ...

Philip Roth's Childhood Home Still Stands in Newark

May 26, 2018

NEWARK, NJ — The house at 81 Summit Avenue in Newark's Weequahic neighborhood is otherwise unremarkable expect for a sign attached to its faux flagstone facade noting that the home has been designated a historic site—the childhood home of celebrated author Philip Roth, who died Tuesday at the age of 85.

There were no crowds outside the home to pay homage to ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_ca99dbbe4665a685b474_screen_shot_2018-05-22_at_9.15.03_pm

Mon, May 28, 10:00 AM

Township Hall, West Orange

2018 Memorial Day Observance

Community Calendar

Carousel_image_3dd755d9dc476b5f4dc3_unnamed__4_

Mon, May 28, 8:00 PM

West Orange High School, West Orange

Board of Education Meeting

Community Calendar Education

Carousel_image_28c899d8572458eda4f7_mini_magick20180422-110109-8dtxfl

Tue, May 29

Essex County

Primary – Vote by Mail deadline

Clarifying Points Made in Article About WOHS Air Quality Issues

May 14, 2018

Dear Editor, 

I am the advisor to West Orange High School's student newspaper, The Pioneer. My Editor-in-Chief, Anna Favetta, is the student who researched the topic and wrote the article bringing this issue to light. She worked on the article for 4 months before she had adequate and proper information for it to go to print. 

An article on the BOE presentation of the ...

What It Means to Me - A Baseball Story

We are all in amazement of the dedication and talent of our young West Orange athletes. One of the goals of our youth sports programs is to develop our players so they are ready for high school and are prepared for success at that next level of play. Throughout the course of the year we will be featuring some of our talented young athletes and coaches. This week we have the perspective of ...

West Orange On Three!

The spring season is in full swing, and we are excited to debut this new column focusing on all things youth sports!  We thought we would kick things off with an overview of the programs West Orange has to offer, and then go behind the scenes to see what makes youth sports tick.

West Orange Police Athletic League (PAL) and Mountain Top League (MTL), together with the West Orange ...

Summer 2018 Events at the West Orange Public Library

May 15, 2018

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Beginning in June, the West Orange Public Library will offer the following events for area residents of all ages:

Dinosaurs’ Rock!                                             

Monday, June 11, 4:00 p.m.

Field Station Dinosaur visits with the ...

10-Year-Old Cancer Patient Receives Donation from Randolph Hockey Family

May 21, 2018

RANDOLPH, NJ — While the inter-town hockey battles on the ice between Randolph and Roxbury are fierce at every age level, when it comes to real-life battles off the ice, there is no hesitation to offer help to their neighbor.

Such is the case with a recent gesture of unity and support from the members of the Randolph varsity hockey team, when they came together to ...

A Royal Pain

I went to a big wedding over the weekend.  It was in England.

I like to think I was invited, but according to the Royal Guards and the Thames Valley Police I was not.  But more about that later.

You see, not too long ago I received an evite addressed to me from H&M@royalwedbot.co.uk.  Curiously, it was in my spam folder with a warning message. For an evite it was pretty ...

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...