Wheeler’s boys basketball team won the state title in Class AAAAAA last week and clinched a top-10 national ranking in several polls, but the Wildcats won’t have a chance at a national championship, per Georgia High School Association rules.
Wheeler was invited to play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Invitational next month at Madison Square Garden in New York. Invitations are based on the final USA Today national rankings, which placed Wheeler at No. 7 entering the state finals. The event takes the eight highest-ranked teams that agree to play.
Wheeler defeated Pebblebrook 59-58 in the AAAAAA championship game Saturday in Macon after Jaylen Brown, a finalist for the Naismith Trophy for national player of the year, made two free throws with 0.5 seconds left.
But, GHSA rules don't allow teams to play in national-championship tournaments or participate in any practices or games after their Georgia state tournament is over. The GHSA's rules are in line with most other state associations. The Charlotte Observer reported Monday about a North Carolina girls team that won't be allowed in the New York tournament because of a similar association rule.
Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb would not comment, but athletics director Chase Stroempl said it was disappointing.
‘’I think it would be a really cool showcase for both Wheeler and Georgia basketball,’’ Stroempl said. “We have arguably the best player in the nation [Brown]. We’ve been ranked [highly] all year. We were at No. 4 at one point. It’s all subjective rankings, but when you put yourself in a national tournament, it’s not subjective any more. You have a chance to prove it on the court.’’
Stroempl asked Cobb County athletics director Steve Jones to ask the GHSA for an exception, but they had no luck.
Some Wheeler supporters have begun an online petition in hopes of swaying the GHSA.
GHSA associate director Ernie Yarbrough said the rule has been on the books since at least 1979, when another state basketball champion, Southwest-Macon, was invited to play a tournament in Africa. Southwest went anyway and took a fine and a one-year probation and ban from the state tournament.
He noted that the GHSA doesn’t make its bylaws; the GHSA only enforces them. They are determined by the GHSA's executive committee, which comprises a representative from each of Georgia's 48 regions. Yarbrough said he could only speculate on the rationale for a rule that is decades old.
‘’I would guess that administrators felt that the season is long already, and it’s extended three weeks for the state tournament, and it has to do with time out of class for students but also coaches who are also teachers,’’ Yarbrough said. “For most part, I think all of our schools understand that. Bylaws are put in place to protect kids.’’
Yarbrough also noted that McIntosh’s boys soccer team was denied a chance to play in a national tournament in 2014, which it was still named the National Soccer Coaches Association of America national champion. Swimmers and tennis players have been prevented opportunities to swim or play in national events after their teams’ seasons ended, he said.
As it stands, Wheeler’s season will end with a 30-2 record. One of Wheeler’s victories is against Florida’s Montverde Academy, the defending National High School Invitational champion.
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