Throughout its decade-long rise to athletic prominence, particularly in girls basketball and football, Capital Prep of Hartford has been under siege by critics, who have suggested that the magnet school gamed the state’s blind lottery admissions to ensure top athletes play on its courts and fields.
The school’s administrators and coaches have roundly pushed back against the charge over the years, notably founder and former principal Steve Perry and girls basketball coach Tammy Millsaps.
On Wednesday, the Hartford Courant published an investigation supporting those charges.
In the report, the newspaper said it uncovered “at least 10 cases of student-athletes who were admitted outside the blind lottery system, based on interviews with students, parents and others with direct knowledge of individual admissions.”
The student-athletes’ families who were interviewed by the Courant confirmed they were given preferential treatment or circumvented the lottery, altogether.
One of those students was former Middletown basketball player Janai Johnson, who had already enrolled at Middletown for her sophomore year in 2010, but then transferred to Capital Prep in the middle of the school year, long after the lottery had been conducted.
Another instance was Tyrrell Boseman, who played for the 2014 state championship football team. His family told the Courant he never entered the lottery.
And those were just the families who permitted the Courant the use of their names.
The story — written by Vanessa de la Torre and Matthew Kauffman — also cites an impending state audit report, conducted from 2012 to 2015, which has found that “dozens” of other Capital Prep students, as well as some from other Hartford-area magnet schools, circumvented the usual enrollment rules.
However, it was unclear, the Courant wrote, if the state audit had determined a cause. The audit has not yet been released.
None of this is breaking news to a number of state high school coaches and administrators, who have long alleged these types of shenanigans. Capital Prep accepts “a small fraction” of over 1,000 applications a year, the Courant reported, yet a disproportionate number of good athletes find their way into the school’s halls.
Robert McMahon, the girls basketball coach at Thomaston, a perennial Class S public-school power, was one of those publicly suspicious of the process.
His program lost to Capital Prep in the 2013 Class S final before tournament success rules for “schools of choice” pushed the Trailblazers up in class.
“Snoop (James) was there, (Kiah) Gillespie, (Desiree) Elmore… If that’s a true lottery they ought to play power ball,” McMahon told GameTimeCT in a 2015 story. “It’s a lottery, but they happen to get world-class athletes in there?”
Former Prince Tech-Hartford principal William Chaffin, whose school played in the same league — the Constitution State Conference — as Capital Prep, told the Courant, “It’s no surprise at all.”
The Courant obtained a 2o13 complaint Prince Tech filed with CIAC alleging Capital Prep sought out two of its football players, a violation of the state association’s recruiting rules.
Though the CIAC rejected the recruiting complaint, investigator Vaughn Ramseur also reported that Perry acknowledged that student-athletes applicants circumvented the blind lottery. Afterward, the CIAC wrote a letter to Perry saying it expected Capital Prep to follow the state’s lottery protocols, the Courant reported.
These revelations obviously put Capital Prep, as well as the CIAC, on increasingly shaky ground going forward.
CIAC recruiting policy lists “offer or acceptance of the bypassing of the established policies and procedures for admittance/enrollment to a school,” as a recruiting violation under its undue influence section (Article X, Section B.2.g. of the CIAC Handbook).
The state’s blind lottery protocols for magnet school enrollment would certainly seem to qualify as an established policy. The CIAC will likely be compelled to determine if any of Capital Prep’s athletes were improperly enrolled, which could put the school’s impressive state trophy display in jeopardy.
There are also broader ramifications.
For years, the CIAC has been under attack for allowing “schools of choice,” which include magnet schools like Capital Prep and other private and catholic schools under the association’s umbrella, to compete for state championships alongside public schools, who are demonstrably at a competitive disadvantage.
Under this system, Capital Prep’s girls basketball team — led by two New Haven Register state players of the year in Gillespie, who ultimately went to Maryland for two seasons, and Elmore, who is now at Syracuse — won 90 consecutive games and four-consecutive state championships from 2013-2016 and reached the Class L semifinals this year.
Evidence of undue influence in recruiting should only strengthen calls to separate choice schools from their public brethren.