Santa Monica High Athletes' Residency Questioned

Times Staff Writer

A member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education has suggested that an independent party verify the addresses of varsity athletes at Santa Monica High School because of claims that most members of this year's highly rated basketball team lived outside the district.

At a school board meeting earlier this month, board member Connie Jenkins proposed that an independent observer visit the homes of varsity athletes to make sure they live within the district.

Jenkins also suggested that the superintendent of schools send letters to coaches and athletes warning that residency requirements will be enforced.

"The letters would . . . give very clear notice to coaches and players that we would enforce residency requirements," Jenkins said, "And the house checks would be the enforcement procedure."

The board did not act on Jenkins' proposal and she said she would reintroduce it this fall.

"If the board wants to go the extra step of having independent checks, I have no problem with that," said School Supt. George Caldwell. "I trust the people who are doing (the checks) now. If the board wants a higher level of confidence, then that is a decision they will have to make. And that will cost extra money."

Will Send Letters

Caldwell said he has already decided to send students letters that "are going to make a particular point that you must be a legal resident" of the district to attend school there.

He added that no one has come forward with concrete evidence that players lived outside the district.

Several attempts to reach Cliff Hunter, coach of the team, were unsuccessful, but when he was asked earlier this year if any of his players lived outside the district, Hunter said, "As far as I know they live in Santa Monica. I don't really have a lot to say on it."

Jenkins made her proposal after meeting privately with board member Robert Holbrook and two students from the high school.

Jenkins and Holbrook refused to release details of the meetings but The Times has learned that the students said that several players on this year's basketball team did not live in the school district. A former student, who did not attend the meeting, also told The Times that some members of the team lived in Los Angeles and Inglewood, not Santa Monica.

Attending school in the district while living in another district is a violation of Santa Monica school district policy.

Officials at the high school said, however, that all eight players who were with the team throughout the year verified addresses in Santa Monica when they enrolled at the school. Utility bills, escrow papers or rental agreements are used as proof of residence. Subsequent checks are not standard procedure but have been made on the eight players because of the controversy. All school records are private.

But as the team breezed through a perfect Bay League season and into the third round of the CIF playoffs this spring, Los Angeles school officials were investigating whether four unidentified Santa Monica players really lived in the district.

Still Had Doubts

At the conclusion of their investigation in May, they sent a letter to Santa Monica officials in which they said they still had doubts about where the four students actually lived, according to Paul Godfrey, a Los Angeles school district administrator. "We brought that information to their (Santa Monica's) attention."

Godfrey said Los Angeles counselors visited the Santa Monica addresses of the four players and "raised serious questions as to whether a valid address had been established."

Los Angeles officials did not recommend any action to Santa Monica officials because each school district is responsible for verifying its students' home addresses, Godfrey said.

Officials of the California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school sports, agreed. They said the CIF does not care where students live. As long as other requirements are met, "they could live in Cucamonga and attend school in Palos Verdes," according to Dean Crowley of the CIF's southern section office.

Questions raised by Los Angeles officials led to additional checks by Santa Monica High School staff members. The players' addresses were verified by home visits, according to Caldwell.

"On this particular case, on this year's basketball players, we literally spent hours," he said. High school Principal Terry Pearson's staff people "have been out to some of the houses three or four times."

But one of the students who attended the private meeting with Jenkins and Holbrook told The Times that players had learned that house checks would be made and were able to make it appear that they actually lived at the addresses they had given the school.

Jenkins said that independent checks should be made because of the continuing questions about the basketball team.

"Inasmuch as there might be an appearance that the school has an interest in the performance of the basketball team," Jenkins said, "it might be better that someone who doesn't have an interest do the checking. . . .

"It is a way to reassure the public that these things are being taken care of; you have someone with no interest in the situation whatsoever do the checking."

Expects Support

Jenkins said she is only interested in checking on players enrolling in September and not in investigating past basketball teams. She said she expects support from other board members when she proposes house checks again this fall.

But Principal Pearson said he will oppose them. He plans to use utility bills and other standard procedures to verify players' addresses in the fall. "That will clear the air as far as I'm concerned," Pearson said. "We don't have the facilities or resources to make constant house checks on every student."

Two Santa Monica High players applied to the Los Angeles school district in February for permits to finish the school year in Santa Monica, Los Angeles officials said. The two said their families had just moved to Los Angeles. They were granted the permits and finished the year in Santa Monica.

Of the eight players on the Santa Monica team, five attended school in Los Angeles the year before they came to Santa Monica, one in Inglewood, one in Compton and just one in Santa Monica, according to Vice Principal Richard Turner.

"There are a limited number of people who can participate," Jenkins said, "and if they are being prevented from participating because someone is here illegitimately then that is a problem. We want to make it much more difficult for that to happen. I don't know if we can ever prevent it completely."

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