By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Kenwood Academy parents continue to debate the fairness of the school’s decision to fire its varsity basketball coach. Some parents said they are concerned about the basketball team’s academic future while others said the team needs a coach, who can lead the team to more victories.
Jim Maley was fired from his position as head coach of the Kenwood Academy High School varsity basketball team Friday, March 7. Greg Jones, principal at Kenwood, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., said the school is looking to go in a new direction with its basketball team. Over the past week, phone calls, letters and e-mails have been sent by parents who are incensed by the news. There have even been lengthy posts on social media sites debating the issue.
“The last thing we should do is applaud someone for putting a ball in a hoop but pay no mind to their academics,” said Kenwood parent Leeanetta Smith. “A 2.0 GPA is required to play on the team; he makes sure that they have 2.5 or they can’t play.”
Kenwood parent Bill Smith said he does not want Kenwood’s basketball team to end up like Curie High School’s team. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) forced Curie to forfeit all of its regular season games because several players on the team were ineligible to play due to their low grades. The team, which excels on the basketball court, was allowed to play in 4A state tournament against DuSable High School because the Illinois High School Association doesn’t bar teams from playing based on their GPAs.
“The principal is not saying why he fired coach Maley. What is his new direction — trying to be Curie?” Bill Smith asked. “Marley is a gallant soldier and has [the] best interest of the kids. It’s a shame Maley has fallen into [a] cesspool of a situation.”
The Smiths said several parents have joined together to look into ways they can help Maley get his coaching job back. They drafted a letter in response to the letter Jones sent out to parents announcing the change last Monday.
“I was told that I was being fired because I didn’t win enough games,” said Maley, who has been at Kenwood for five years.
Although Maley was the only coach who was officially terminated from the position, it is expected that the incoming coach will bring in his own coaching team to streamline training.
Currently the other coaches that worked with Maley, which includes math teacher Bill Kluber and the dean of students Karen Calloway, have not received any notification about the part they will play in the team’s change in leadership. Maley was not let go from his position as physical education teacher.
Kenwood alum and high-ranking basketball player Remy Price contributed a comment in a social media conversation stating that Maley was a coach who made sure the players excelled academically.
“Maley was my coach for three years … he made a lot of us work hard on the court and even in the classroom,” said Price in an online statement.
Price said while Maley required an above average 2.5 GPA from the players on the team, he really wanted them to strive for a 3.0.
“Also when Maley was coach, Kenwood became a face in our division with names such as Hyde Park [High School] and Curie,” stated Price. “And his players are able to leave Kenwood and play in college.”
Kim Williams, president of the Kenwood Basketball Booster Club, said she is surprised that Price has been defending Maley on social media. She said Maley should have been working hard to get a high-ranking player like Price a scholarship but he didn’t.
“I think the change is leadership for the basketball team is a positive one,” Williams said. “It’s a good thing because we were losing as many games as we were winning.”
“We have two of the 25 top-ranked players in the state but the coach doesn’t play them,” Williams said.
Williams said Maley inherited a team of well-behaved players who already excelled academically.
“I didn’t see where he cared about academics,” said Williams, who added that 90 percent of the players already had high GPAs and one is a Gates Millennium scholar. “He was overly concerned about behavior; they are good kids. He’s from La Grange [Ill.] so he saw things differently.”
Williams said Maley’s refusal to use certain players and recruit and retain other top players in the city is a sign that the team is not being coached properly.
“Kenwood needs to get more exposure,” Williams said. “If our kids are going to play ball and that’s how they are going to pay for college then there should be no obstacles in the way. If the coach doesn’t change his strategy then something has to change.”
Maley said his coaching team’s strategy was to use playing the sport as an incentive for students to do well academically.
“We want to use basketball as a way to improve academics and discipline on and off the court,” Maley said. “I hope the new coach will still focus on that.”