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UIL reprimands, punishes McAllen school over ineligible player

The University Interscholastic League State Executive Committee voted Thursday to punish James “Nikki” Rowe’s athletics program over a scheme to play an ineligible basketball player from Mexico that resulted in former head basketball coach Jose Yebra losing his position and dashed the Warriors’ playoff hopes last month.

Jose Yebra, Rowe Basketball Coach. Photo courtesy via Facebook.

After a hearing, the committee voted to reprimand Rowe’s athletics program and place it on a two-year probation. It also assigned the program mandatory training.

The committee reprimanded Yebra as well and suspended him from coaching any UIL extracurricular activities for three years over misbehavior more than one of the committee members described as “egregious.”

McAllen ISD suspended Yebra from coaching duties in February after an internal investigation found Yebra provided incorrect information on a previous athletic participation form.

Documents obtained by the Progress Times through an open records request include a transcript from a UIL District 31-5A District Executive Committee on February 14, the district’s account of its investigation and findings, statements from a player’s parents and Yebra’s response to allegations.

Those documents describe a junior basketball player’s parents becoming upset he wasn’t getting much time on the court and going to the school’s administration with allegations Yebra recruited their son and flagrantly disregarded UIL policy in a scheme to let him play against the rules.

The student and his parents, whose names are redacted in the documents, are from Monterrey, Mexico.

The parents claim their son played for a team there: the Wildcats, coached by Efrain Acuña.

Acuña knew Yebra, they told the UIL, who said he needed a point guard on his varsity team at Rowe and would take the player from Monterrey.

The parents alleged the player and his mother flew into McAllen on September 24 of last year and that Yebra recommended some rental possibilities — emphasizing the need to live in Rowe’s school zone.

The parents found a place for their son to live. According to Yebra, it was part of a section of a house where other tenants lived.

Once the player successfully enrolled at Rowe his mother went back to Mexico. She would return periodically, but keep tabs on him through his landlord through two-week stretches.

According to the parents, Yebra guided the family through successfully getting the player on his team.

They said he advised them on how to avoid getting caught by a surprise home visit, and introduced them to Rowe Athletic Coordinator Robert Flores after coaching them on how to answer questions Flores would ask.

The deception worked and the player competed in a dozen district games, through the end of January.

He didn’t play enough for his parents’ liking, however, and when they confronted administrators they came armed with WhatsApp messages and audio recordings to back up their claims.

Yebra, whose accounts sometimes proved inconsistent, admitted that the player was ineligible but generally described the violation as an oversight rather than wilful deception.

Pressed by committee members Thursday, he admitted to having at least some knowledge that the player wasn’t eligible and remained apologetic.

“I have learned my lesson,” he said. “I have learned that it was a horrible situation that I was part of. And I regret everything from the moment that all of this started.”

That player isn’t the only Rowe athlete McAllen ISD has investigated for playing in violation of UIL rules.

Anonymous complaints about 10 potentially ineligible athletes from Mexico playing at the school under Yebra prompted a district investigation late in October of 2023, McAllen ISD Athletic Director Brian McClenny said Thursday.

The investigation resulted in no significant action and even cleared the player whose parents reported allegations with proof in February.

Committee members voiced concern over the district’s handling of that investigation. Committee Chair Mike Motheral called its findings “really empty and really way off-base.”

That investigation discovered five students from Mexico living in a house with a guardian, a situation the committee indicated should have prompted suspicion, given the nature of allegations against Yebra.

McAllen ISD personnel said they simply lacked evidence.

“We didn’t have a smoking gun,” Rowe Principal Alfredo Gutierrez said. “We didn’t have any proof when those first allegations came to be. Did it pass the smell test or the eye test, all of the stuff that you all have been saying about kids living in the same household, all these kids coming from Mexico and being involved in the basketball program. Well, you know, it looks a little suspect.”

Suspicion wasn’t enough for action, district personnel said Thursday, but UIL leadership said better communication and more accountability is in order.

“I think I have some additional concerns about the entirety of this situation,” UIL Director of Athletics Ray Zepeda said. “The relationship of Coach Acuña to your coach…And just reading the totality of information here, I’ve got serious concerns about all of this and I would just suggest that you take a fresh look at all of this and if necessary report back to the DEC.”

McClenny took the blame for that criticism.

“I take full responsibility for that,” he said. “That’s on me.”

McClenny and other district representatives kept that same attitude throughout the hearing: humble and receptive to concern.

That attitude seemed to play well with committee members.

“We appreciate you’re eventually getting to the point of recognizing the significance of what’s going on,” Motheral said. “Now it’s time for you to be very proactive and take a look at your programs. And good luck to you.”

 

1 Comment

  1. Alejandro Garcia on April 3, 2024 at 1:36 pm

    To my understanding Rowe will be able to finish this year all sports. But, next two years will be on suspension.

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