Transfer Chelsea Robinson could be the missing piece to the Francis Lewis girls’ basketball team’s PSAL city titles hopes, but league coaches are saying the senior forward should not be eligible to compete.
Robinson, who came in from The Taft School in Connecticut, played her first game with the third-ranked Patriots in an 81-50 victory over No. 14 Boys & Girls in the opening round of the PSAL Class AA playoffs Thursday. She scored 11 points and was honored as the team’s lone senior during a Senior Night ceremony despite only having been in the school for a few weeks.
“It felt great to be able to play and to play with the girls,” the 6-foot-1 Robinson said.
Robinson, who spent her first two high school seasons at Nazareth in Brooklyn, did not think she was going to be able to compete after transferring from Taft, a private boarding school. The Bushwick native played there last year and part of this season, her mother Yolanda Caban said. Robinson left the school over Christmas break for “personal reasons” and enrolled at Francis Lewis in mid-January, according to Caban.
Caban said they chose Francis Lewis because of its academics. School athletic director Arnie Rosenbaum said she was placed there by the Board of Education enrollment office. Robinson was added to the Patriots’ inactive list on Jan. 27, four days prior to the Jan. 31 deadline to be eligible to play. Robinson is happy to be at Lewis.
“I just wanted to be closer to home,” she said. “I missed my family. Taft was a great school, but I needed to be closer to home.”
League coaches want to know more about why she was cleared to play and until then they believe her eligibility is a direct violation of league rules. Rule 3.2 of the PSAL student-athlete eligibility regulations states: “No PSAL student-athlete may participate in the same sport for more than one school (public, private, parochial) in the same sports season.”
“Francis Lewis, they portray themselves as a school of higher academic excellence and portray themselves as a school that does things the right way,” Truman coach John Burke said. “It’s very shady. It’s not what it seems to be. I’m surprised by Francis Lewis.”
The PSAL and the school are saying there were “extenuating circumstances” that convinced the league officials to clear her to play. Head coach Steve Tsai, Caban, Rosenbaum and the league would not elaborate on the nature of those circumstances. Tsai said that she had to leave Taft immediately.
“Ultimately, it was what’s best in terms of the child,” Tsai said. “I think the evidence showed that they weren’t trying to make moves because of athletics.”
Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said in a statement: “She was approved after an appeal. The PSAL considered the reasons she had for leaving the school. It was for personal reasons. We cannot elaborate because of privacy rules under FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act].”
The situation is similar to what happened with South Shore boys’ basketball Fred Ruffin last year, according to South Shore athletic director Pat Trani. Ruffin transferred into the Brooklyn school for the remainder of his senior year from Oak Grove High School in Mississippi. He was initially cleared by the PSAL and played in two playoff games before it came to light that Ruffin had played for Oak Grove earlier that year.
The PSAL then revoked Ruffin’s eligibility prior to South Shore’s quarterfinal loss to Wings. Trani said the league did not want to consider the hardship that caused Ruffin to move back home and told him rule 3.2 superseded the hardship and his change of address.
“I can’t understand how this girl is eligible,” Trani said. “It’s the same exact situation only one was a boy and one was a girl and the rules are in black and white.”
Murry Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky, whose team is going for its 16th straight city title, is not happy with the “extenuating circumstances” explanation he and his school were given when contacting the PSAL about Robinson. Grezinsky believes if a rule is ignored the other coaches deserve a clearer reason why.
“If you make up rules and regulations, you have to abide by the rules and regulations,” he said. “There are always extenuating circumstances. If you are going to have extenuation circumstances, then you have to let everybody know why you are going this girl permission to play.”
Rosenbaum brushed aside the coaches’ uproar, saying if they had a transfer cleared, “it would be fine.” The Patriots (18-3) are happy to have Robinson’s services and leadership. She provided them with experience that a sophomore heavy team needed as well a presence inside and on the backboards it was missing all year.
“As soon as we got Chelsea we were like, ‘What are people going to say now?’” sophomore guard Taliyah Brisco said. “Now we have a big girl.”
Robinson’s focus is on improving her chemistry with her new teammates and trying to help Lewis win a city title. Lewis takes on No. 6 Truman 1 p.m. Sunday at Lehman College in the quarterfinals.
“It was an adjustment to see how we play together, just to mesh,” Robinson said. “It’s coming along great. I think we are going to make a run.”
©2014 Community News Group
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