APS investigating allegations of cheating on basketball court

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned that Atlanta Public Schools and the Georgia High School Association are investigating allegations of cheating on the basketball court.

The investigation — which APS stated it is taking “very seriously” — is focused on allegations that ineligible players who didn’t live in the attendance zone or even the city limits played for at least two years on the women’s basketball team at Maynard Jackson High School in East Atlanta.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher found out that allowing ineligible players to participate is a recurring problem for APS.

As far back as 2004, Channel 2 exposed attendance zone irregularities with the men’s basketball team at Carver High School, which had reached the state finals the year before.

And in 2014, a school district investigation found that at least a quarter of Grady High’s football players were ineligible because they lived out of the zone.

Channel 2′s sources include the mother of an APS basketball player, who asked us not to use her name or her daughter’s name for this story. Belcher asked for her personal recollection of how many players on the MJHS women’s team lived out of the zone or outside the city limits.

The mother, whom we’re calling Ms. Jones, told Channel 2: “At the time I was aware and was physically able to see, I’d say roughly about four.”

Jones’ daughter played basketball at Jackson before transferring to another APS high school. Channel 2 met her through the whistleblower who tipped us on the ongoing investigations of Jackson’s alleged use of ineligible players during at least the past two seasons.

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The whistleblower also gave us copies of the letters that were sent to the Jackson principal and to the Georgia High School Association, the quasi-public agency that oversees nearly all high school competitions in Georgia.

The letters detail the alleged misconduct and names of the players who are under investigation. The allegations mostly — but not entirely — deal with athletes who don’t or didn’t live in the Jackson attendance zone and maybe not even the city of Atlanta. Channel 2 is withholding the names of the athletes.

Among the evidence provided to investigators are DeKalb County tax records identifying one player’s alleged home in Decatur.

There are also surveillance videos shot by someone who tracked players and a coach before and after school.

Jones said she first got an inkling of something out of the ordinary when she told her daughter’s coach at Jackson the family would be moving to another APS high school. She said the coach said her daughter could continue to play for Jackson.

“I didn’t know that that was illegal. I didn’t know. They said, ‘Don’t worry. They got it.’ I never thought to question anything until after the fact,” she told Belcher.

Jones said she started looking at eligibility rules after her daughter was declared ineligible this past season. She was accused of improperly following a coach to another school, a charge Jones disputes and said she’s appealing.

She now sees something she previously overlooked: Some of Jackson’s players didn’t live in the Jackson zone.

Belcher asked her if she personally saw homes of her daughter’s teammates that were out of the zone or out of the district.

“I have,” she said. “They were not.”

APS sent a statement that it is interviewing everyone involved and examining all materials that have been presented. APS stated all parties involved will be notified when the review is complete.

A spokesman for the Georgia High School Association in Thomaston confirmed the investigation but declined to comment until the investigation is completed.

Steve Figueroa told Channel 2, “Once a ruling (or rulings) have been made and the school notified, you could get the outcome from the school, or the APS AD (Jasper Jewell). We would only tell you if games were forfeited and/or the school fined.”