In a decision that has left two coaches and a school board member disappointed, the Manchester School District has agreed to let two member boys’ basketball teams play Pembroke Academy. The decision comes a month after the state’s Division I athletics directors and principals agreed to boycott the Spartans.
Manchester Public Schools Athletics Director Chris Donovan confirmed Tuesday that he, along with Supt. Debra Livingston and Assistant Supt. David Ryan, collectively agreed to let Memorial and Central play Pembroke next season. West is petitioning to Division II next season and is not affected by this decision, according to Donovan.
Controversy has been swirling around the Pembroke basketball program since last December when the NHIAA ruled that two transfer students were ineligible to play basketball for the Spartans. The Spartans captured the Division II title last March, but later that month the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches Organization stripped a Pembroke senior of his Player of the Year award after posting an obscene tweet. Recently, another Pembroke player was ruled ineligible to play next season by the NHIAA. The player’s parents have threatened a lawsuit against the NHIAA.
Last month, after Pembroke decided to petition from Division II to Division I, the Division I athletic directors and principals — including Manchester’s — voted not to play the Spartans next season.
On Monday, Donovan said the “Manchester School District doesn’t have the jurisdiction to levy sanctions against another member school. That’s the NHIAA’s job. We understand and are not minimizing the concerns other schools have about Pembroke. But Pembroke sent out a request asking if we would play them and we ultimately made the decision that we felt was in the best interest of our school district. We’re basically trying to do what we believe is right.”
Donovan confirmed he did not consult with any school board member, the athletic coordinators at each school (Jane Clayton at Central and Jack Quirk at Memorial) and the two head coaches, Quirk and Dave “Doc” Wheeler at Central.
“I was at the athletic directors’ meeting last month and I’m on the record that I fully support the action that was taken by all the Division I schools to boycott Pembroke,” said Quirk. “I personally don’t agree with the Manchester decision now made to play Pembroke. Mr. Donovan certainly knew where I stood. They (Manchester administration) have a right to their own opinion, but I don’t agree with it.”
Wheeler said he was disappointed he didn’t receive a phone call from Donovan or someone else from the administration. “I didn’t know a decision was made to play Pembroke until today,” said Wheeler. “I’ve been coaching at Central for 24 years and Jack has been at Memorial longer than me. It would have been nice if someone could have called us. It would be nice for me to know why did we decide to play a school which isn’t following the rules. I know we follow the rules. That’s all I’m saying, it would have been nice to get a phone call. Look, whatever happens, we’re going to show up and play.”
Art Beaudry, Ward 9 school board member, said he was disappointed this matter didn’t come before the athletic committee before the decision was made to play Pembroke.
“It makes our athletic coordinators look foolish, especially after we voted with the rest of Division I to boycott Pembroke. It’s clear to me that Pembroke violated NHIAA rules. The decision to now play Pembroke makes our district look bad. It makes us look like we’re not a man of our word. That bothers me.”
Pinkerton Academy of Derry athletic director Tim Powers, who serves as president of the Division I athletic directors, said he was surprised when he learned Manchester wanted to play Pembroke.
“It’s disappointing, but it doesn’t really change anything,” said Powers. “The other schools in our division will not play Pembroke. Manchester still has time to reconsider because we won’t be working on next year’s schedule until this summer. They actually have until September to submit their final schedule to us.”
Powers said he doesn’t recall if Donovan attended the athletic directors’ meeting to discuss boycotting Pembroke. “I know Jack Quirk attended it and stood with the rest of Division I in voting in favor of not playing Pembroke next season.”
Powers said even if Memorial and Central play Pembroke, the Spartans would not qualify for the state tournament.
“The NHIAA by-law states that teams must play 40-percent of their schedule against Division I teams,” said Powers.