Schools sin-binned over sport poaching

By Martha McKenzie-Minifiee

Three high school sports figures have been suspended from coaching major competitions in an unprecedented crackdown on poaching of star students.

Mt Albert Grammar School - which last year blitzed the competition by winning the senior rugby, netball and soccer titles - had its director of sport, Kerry Baker, suspended for a year from competitions and tournaments run by governing body College Sport after an investigation found a rugby player was poached.

Netballer Julie Kelman-Poto, who played for the Force last year and was volunteer coach of Mt Albert Grammar's top girls basketball team, was also suspended after it was found she put a player on court under a false name when the school knew the player was ineligible.

Northcote College's volunteer boys basketball coach Norman Fong was suspended after it was found he breached recruitment rules by asking parents to transfer their son from another school.

The sanctions were described as unprecedented yesterday, and show how serious school sport and the issue of poaching players have become.

In December, the standdown penalty for elite players found to have been enticed to move schools for sport was raised from four games to a year.

Schools that students have left must sign waivers before the teenagers can play under their new colours.

One mother, who would not be identified, said children should come first and the situation had got out of hand.

The by-laws - which govern much of the sport for thousands of students a week from the 100 member schools in the Auckland region - are about to be further overhauled after an independent review by lawyers Andrew Brown, QC, and Paul Pa'u.

College Sport chief executive Manoj Daji said the sanctions were among the most serious imposed, and were without precedent.

He said he was concerned at the growing number of cases in which it was alleged that poaching or enticement was going on.

But in two of the three suspensions announced yesterday - those involving Mr Baker and Mr Fong - the schools say they will appeal.

In February, Mt Albert Grammar principal Dale Burden said: "We don't need to go out and poach - they come knocking on the door."

Yesterday he said the school would not enrol a student if they had been recruited.

The large waiting list for the junior school showed it did not need to "go out looking for talent".

Mr Burden said it was likely some would question the school's sports results, which showed the senior rugby, netball and soccer teams last year played 38 games between them and lost only one match, a second-round rugby clash.

"Some people will look at this and say `well, that's why they win'," said Mr Burden. "But it's not only wrong, it's also a diversion away from why they don't win themselves."

Northcote College principal Vicki Barrie said the school felt it was treated unfairly.

Mr Baker and Mr Fong would not comment yesterday.

Ms Kelman-Poto told the Herald she did not intentionally breach the rules and had stepped in as coach only about a fortnight before the ineligible player took to the court in the April 8 match against Manurewa High following "a series of mistakes".

But College Sport ruled the coach knew the student could not play.

- NZ Herald

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