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Bird ineligible, Salesian forfeits 16 games

The Salesian High boys basketball team is forfeiting its first 16 wins this season because leading scorer Jabari Bird is ineligible, athletic director Chad Nightingale said Friday afternoon.

Bird — a sophomore ranked 26th in the 2013 recruiting class according to ESPN Rise — transferred last summer from Benicia to Salesian, the top-ranked team in the Bay Area News Group-East Bay poll.
Bird declined to comment Friday. He was averaging 16.9 points per game.
The main reason for Bird’s ineligibility is California Interscholastic Federation Bylaw 510, which stipulates that a student-athlete who transfers has to disclose pre-enrollment contact with anyone associated with that school’s athletic department.
Nightingale said that this summer, Bird joined an AAU team (the Oakland Soldiers) that had a Salesian player. Nightingale declined to name the player. Since Bird enrolled at Salesian on Aug. 18 and the CIF form 207/209/510 that was signed indicated there was no pre-enrollment contact, that’s considered an infraction because pre-enrollment contact includes playing on the same AAU team as another person, Nightingale said.
“That is regardless of whether they even talk about the high school,” Nightingale said. “At no time did (Bird and the player) talk about Salesian athletics (while on the Soldiers) according to the students.
“(Bird’s) dad works close to the school and wanted a private education. He never even spoke to me or any of the coaches (before the transfer). He spoke to our admissions director. He did everything right, but (didn’t) check the right box.”
North Coast Section commissioner Gil Lemmon confirmed that he rescinded the eligibility of Bird on Friday, something that requires the 16 forfeits. Lemmon also said that CIF Bylaw 510 was the main reason for the ineligibility. He had no further comment.
Nightingale said Lemmon e-mailed him Tuesday with concern about an article in the Vallejo Times-Herald on Tuesday that dealt with Bird’s transfer. Nightingale said there was concern by Lemmon over a quote by the Pride’s Freddie Tagaloa that stated, “I told him if he’s looking to play a little, he should cross that bridge and come to Salesian.”
“I have no recollection (of saying that),” Tagaloa said Friday. “I mentioned that education is better across the bridge, so the bridge part was in there.”
Jose San Mateo, the Times-Herald reporter who wrote the story, said Friday that he stands by that quote.
Nightingale said he also received an e-mail Wednesday from Lemmon asking questions about the transfer. Nightingale then conducted an investigation and found that one of the Salesian players had played with Bird on the same AAU team.
“There is something called an administrator’s checklist (for a transfer), you go through a battery of 19 questions,” said Nightingale, who added Salesian plans to appeal the decision. “The idea is, I went through everything and there’s nothing there … I would never in a million years think to ask ‘Did you ever play on a summer team with one of our kids?’ It never crossed my mind.
“The North Coast Section and Gil Lemmon have done their job.”
Salesian (1-17, 1-5 Bay Shore Athletic League after the Pride’s 74-37 win Friday night over Piedmont) still has a chance to reach postseason. If the Pride posts a winning record in the BSAL or wins the league tournament, it can qualify for the NCS playoffs.
“A lot of guys don’t really understand what’s going on and why they’re choosing to come down on him and not other cases,” Salesian coach Bill Mellis said about the team’s reaction. “It’s an interesting case because (Bird’s family) did everything they were supposed to do. The paperwork is kind of misleading a little bit. I think they answered their questions honestly, and we just have to go back and figure things out with an appeal and go from there.”

Staff writer Jimmy Durkin contributed to this report.

Phil Jensen