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Southern Section seeks stiffer interaction rules

It says a clearer definition is needed on issue of high school, club connections.

August 21, 2008|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Southern Section Commissioner James Staunton said Wednesday he has initiated talks with California Interscholastic Federation State Executive Director Marie Ishida to recommend new rules that will better define -- and penalize -- wrongful interaction between club and high school coaches.

Staunton, responding to a story Monday in The Times in which the mother of an Anaheim Esperanza High basketball player said her son's club coach arranged a private meeting she attended with Villa Park High Coach Kevin Reynolds, said the allegation "underscores a problem that exists . . . in several hundred of our gyms."

Also, while Staunton said he would "neither confirm nor deny" whether the Southern Section has launched an investigation into the possible violation of undue influence rules in Reynolds' contact with Esperanza mother Tracy Mills, he said "the issue is not dead."

Efforts by The Times to reach Villa Park Athletic Director Tom Fox were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Reynolds has previously denied any wrongdoing, insisting he did not meet privately with Mills and that the woman "peppered" him with questions as he stood near the entry doors of the Villa Park gymnasium earlier this year. The coach said he obeyed CIF rules and referred her to speak with school administrators.

Mills' account differed, and she said Reynolds told her in a private session set up by her son's club coach that guard Zach Mills, an incoming sophomore at Esperanza, "would fit right in" on Villa Park's basketball roster.

Staunton said he is seeking to address relationships like the one that existed between Mills' club team director, Prince Cassell of the Southern California Aces, and Reynolds.

Cassell's Aces practiced at the Villa Park gym this year. Mills said she aired her frustrations about the direction of Esperanza's basketball program to Cassell, and he said he told her, "If you want to contact the coach, go ahead."

Cassell said he wasn't trying to "channel" Mills to Villa Park, explaining, "I do that for all my kids," telling them to "maybe look at different schools . . . I give them options."

Staunton said prep-club connections have troubling potential that he and Ishida plan to assign a new subcommittee to address.

"We want to rein in the acts that can come with this situation, where if I'm the high school coach and rent my gym to you [the club coach], and you have talent I want, and feel beholden to me for allowing me your gym . . . we need to better address this with clubs and advise our schools with specific language in our bylaws.

"We can put language in . . . that there either can't be a relationship among coaches, or the [high school] coach can't be present at club events inside the gym."

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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