On January 17, one of the most heated midseason in-state basketball contests turned out to be a prelude to a tragedy, with a postgame, handshake-line brawl between Chicago (Ill.) Simeon Career Academy and Chicago (Ill.) Morgan Park High escalating tensions and setting the stage for the shooting death of a South Side teen. Now the head coaches of both teams are paying the price for their roles in the brawl, with Chicago Public Schools handing out a four game ban that will cost one coach any role in the presumptive game of the season.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune and a handful of other sources, both Simeon head basketball coach Robert Smith and Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin were suspended for four games each in connection with their roles in the fight between their teams. While the suspension will be harsh for both programs, it could be particularly caustic for Simeon, which faces one of the top programs in the nation on Saturday, when it faces fellow Windy City powerhouse Chicago (Ill.) Whitney Young High.
“Coaches in Chicago Public Schools must serve as mentors, instructors and role models for our students both on and off the court or field of competition,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement to the press. “The children under their charge take their cues from them on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Knowing this, coaches must at all times conduct themselves in a professional and sportsmanlike manner
“Through both words and actions, the boys basketball coaches of Morgan Park and Simeon high schools on Jan. 16 violated the code of conduct to which they all must subscribe as a basic responsibility of their positions. We have taken the proper disciplinary steps to address their actions.”
For Simeon, that ‘proper disciplinary action’ could very well cost the school a shot at a national title. In some polls Simeon is ranked as high as number 5, while Whitney Young is atop at least one poll’s ranking. A win in a matchup between number 1 and number 5 in the national rankings is precisely the kind of catalyst that could land most programs a national title. Or cost them a shot at one.
Now Simeon will have to rely even more on the leadership of top recruit Jabari Parker, who will almost certainly take an even more vocal leadership role on the floor for Simeon. Whether or not his evolution is enough to make up for his coach’s absence remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Smith will be kicking himself from afar while missing Saturday’s big face off.