BK High School Scores Bittersweet Basketball Championship After Eligibility Controversy

Eagle Academy Brooklyn was named 2024 PSAL Boys Basketball 4A Champions. Photo: twitter/nycpsal

By: Christopher Edwards

High school sports can pack more punch and have higher stakes than you think.

Take the 2024 New York City Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) Boys Basketball championship. This year, the 4A division was rocked with scandal, as several teams in the semifinals were disqualified after the league conducted unexpected audits.

It all started when the PSAL, which is run by the city Department of Education, reinstated their eligibility office for the first time in four years and began conducting audits towards the end of this year’s season, causing confusion and disappointment for players and coaches alike.

At least three teams were disqualified ahead of games during the semifinals in March. South Shore High School in Canarsie was disqualified due to an age eligibility violation (athletes can play up to their 19th birthday), while Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York was disqualified on an academic eligibility basis. Eagle Academy-Bronx was also disqualified for reasons that remain unclear.

“In simple terms – adults put the long-term future of young people second for momentary high school glory on the court. These adults are not helping students, they are only helping themselves.” said New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks in a statement in March when the disqualifications first came to light. “The goal is to ensure that any issues are identified and dealt with in a timely fashion prior to playoffs, thus avoiding last minute cancellations, which only harm students and their families. Student-athletes across our system deserve role models who uphold the highest levels of integrity and honesty.”

But that’s not quite what happened.

Eagle Academy for Young Men at Ocean Hill found themselves affected by the scandal when their final championship game on March 15 was cancelled the day of. The boys varsity team was the divisional, borough, and city champions last year and many PSAL fans thought they were poised for another victory this year until the audits threw things into disarray.

“Going into the playoffs, we were really playing really well. We won the semifinals game against Brooklyn Collegiate which is a top team, and won by a decent margin,” said Kevin Hamilton Jr., head varsity basketball coach at Eagle Brooklyn. “We had momentum, we were really confident going into the game, and the ending was unfortunate.”

Days after the sudden game cancellation, Eagle Brooklyn was formally acknowledged as the championship’s winners, despite not playing the final game. The win was bittersweet for the team, which has been building a “high-octane” basketball program for many years.

“To be crowned the champions was validating for me, I was glad that the guys [were] acknowledged for the season that they had,” said Hamilton. “But obviously, we would have wanted to win in the traditional way.”

What was most disappointing for Hamilton was how the controversies overshadowed the performance of his players. For example, Jakai Sanders, a star point guard on the team, averaged 17 points, six rebounds and 10 assists throughout the season. He recently committed to Siena College.

Despite the interruption to the season, Hamilton said the audits are good for the league in the long run.

“Setting a standard for the league in the long term is a good thing,” he said, adding that the PSAL showing that they’re willing to enforce the rules, makes everybody have to do their jobs.

The DOE and South Shore High School athletic director Pat Trani did not immediately respond to comment for this article.

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