Johnny O goes one-on-one with Coach K

Northern Wants State Title back
Stan Kowalewski speaks his side of the story

By John Olszewski(Sports Carolina Monthly)
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Most of the Triad knows all about the investigation of the Northern Guilford high school sports eligibility probe executed by the Guilford County Schools Administration. For the past several weeks it has been front page news and it has been the talk of the area. Much of talk has been all the wrongdoings of the schools sports programs that have led to the resignation of the schools Principal and Athletic director. Former Northern Guilford basketball coach Stan Kowalewski (who led his team to a State championship this past year) has been the centerpiece of the probe and I wanted to give Stan a chance to tell his side of the story.

John O.-Let the Triad know your side of the much publicized sports scandal at Northern Guilford High School and your dealings with the Guilford County School administration.

Stan-The situation at Northern Guilford has been properly characterized as a “witchhunt” from Day One.  The problems began with untrue and unfounded allegations of recruiting by John Hughes and Angelo Kidd at Northwest Guilford and those allegations were supported by our school board member, Darlene Garrett.  I have never spoken or met Darlene Garrett in my life, but she took it upon herself to attack Northern Guilford athletics and specifically my boys’ basketball program.  I found that to be incredible being that Mrs. Garrett is supposed to be Northern Guilford’s school board representative and the school’s advocate.  The unfounded allegations continued and the gossip and rumors from jealous coaches in Guilford County fueled the fire that led to two separate investigations of the basketball team.  Guilford County Schools has admitted to me that they have found no evidence of recruiting on my part or that I knew that we had “ineligible” players.  The investigation has now lasted more than 8 months and has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I believe that the school system was under incredible pressure to find something and what they “found” was ineligible players—two of whom were my players who I personally took home on different occasions and I know lived in our district.  The County is basing its findings on change of address of voter registration cards which to me seems to be very flimsy at best. 
Another interesting fact is that earlier in the spring it was reported that Page High School used an ineligible player during football season due to residency issues which is the same issue as the “ineligible” players at Northern.  Page reported this infraction to the NCHSAA on March 12th and a ruling was handed down on April 14th.  That is more than a month to rule on one sport and one player.  Guilford County Schools reported Northern Guilford’s infractions on the morning of May 12th and the NCHSAA made their ruling to impose penalties on the afternoon of the same day, May 12th.  The Northern case involved five athletes and several sports and it only took a few hours to make a ruling?  That tells me that Guilford County Schools recommended a punishment and that the NCHSAA just “rubber stamped” it.  Additionally, Page was not forced to forfeit any games and only the player was penalized, but in Northern’s case both the players and the teams were penalized.  I don’t think that the punishment fits the violation and any objective outsider looking in has raised this question as well.  Many people have come up to me and compared the Northern Guilford situation with the Duke Lacrosse scandal and although there are some obvious differences, the general similarity is that ‘due process” was never given in either case and that kids were guilty until proven innocent.
I am confident that once an objective and fair person such as Alan Duncan or Amos Quick, on the Board of Education, or a judge, or jury get a chance to examine this “evidence” that my players’ eligibility will be restored and the state championship will be returned to Northern Guilford.  I would also like the NCHSAA to re-visit this issue and open its own investigation to find the truth and correct mistakes.  Our players and the student body of Northern Guilford deserve better than the representation they have received and I hope that in the end they get to enjoy the reward that they earned.

John O.-How has all this negative publicity to this point affected you and your family?

Stan-I consider myself to be a pretty resilient person, but this has certainly taken a toll on my family.  I took the job at Northern Guilford with the plan to coach my own sons at the school years from now, and that dream has been taken away.  I certainly appreciate the support from the Northern Guilford community towards my family and I, as well as the tremendous outpouring of support from coaches across the country.  In times like these, you certainly find out who your true friends are and I am grateful that I have many that have supported me.  Most importantly, I want to thank my wife for not only supporting me during this time, but also always being there to support my basketball coaching career at every turn.

John O.-Do you believe you and your team will get the much deserved State title back?

Stan-I truly believe that we will get the title back and our kids deserve it.  No one in this county outside of the Northern Guilford community wants to give our kids any credit for out-working the rest of the state.  It is shameful that adults are so willing to bad-mouth teenagers who are only guilty of working hard and achieving goals.  As I mentioned earlier, I believe that an objective judge, board, arbitrator or jury will reverse this injustice that has been done to our kids.

John O.-What have you learned from all this as far as how our school system is run and what the future holds for Guilford County Public schools?

Stan-I have learned that you can’t win a political fight no matter how much good you do for kids and help them to reach your goals.  We built a strong program that focused on academics first, being a good citizen second and finally working to be a great basketball team.  To me and many others, that should be an asset to any school system, but here it was viewed as a liability that needed to end.  I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed working with great people at High Point Central and Northern Guilford.  Principals Revonda Johnson and Joe Yeager truly put the students first in all aspects of the schools they run and Derrell Force is the hardest working Athletic Director I have ever encountered.  Those three were supported by strong administrative staff at their schools as well great faculty and that is what made those two schools great.  I have a lot of fond memories of both schools and they will be cherished forever by my family and I.

John O-Have you lost any respect for any coaches in the area that have basically thrown you under the bus without actual evidence of any wrongdoings?

Stan-I think that respect is earned and those high school and college coaches across the state and country, who know me and the type of program that my staff and I operate, know that we are in it for the kids and to help them succeed in life.  People like to talk about the “scandal” at Northern Guilford, but how about the scandal that involves high school coaches in Guilford County Schools not working to insure that all of their players take care of their academics and have an opportunity to go to college.  I take tremendous pride that almost all of my players that I have coached are either in or have graduated from college and that only a small number of them actually played basketball in college.  Parents and players want to play for coaches that do what’s best for them and that’s why parents move to districts in order to play a particular sport.  If coaches ran programs like we did at Northern, they would never have to worry about their kids leaving to play for another school.  It is ironic to me that many of the coaches, whose derogatory e-mails towards me have been made public, have put on a good show about being friends with me….. Until I turn my back and then you get stabbed.  I had very little respect for those coaches, that made derogatory comments and unfounded allegations against me, prior to those things coming to light and now I have none.  If coaches in this county spent less time complaining and being jealous of coaching staffs like ours, and more time developing their players, then everyone would be a lot more successful.  Jealousy and ignorance are a bad combination and nothing good comes from either.  People will learn the hard way that you can’t make false accusations about others in a public forum as there are laws that protect people from that.

John O-What are your plans now that you are no longer Northern Guilford basketball coach and what kind of contact and relationships will you continue to have with your former players and parents that have rallied behind you and have such a great relationship and respect for you?

Stan-I have continued to stay in close contact with the players and parents and we have tried our best, from afar, to encourage the players to finish up the school year strong.  In addition, we have been working out the players privately and are trying to get them ready for the summer.  I will be taking all of the Northern players to events in Charlotte and Orlando in July so that they can gain exposure in front of college coaches.  We have a lot of rising seniors and this is an important summer for them as they begin to make their college choices.  My focus the last two months has been entirely on these kids and making sure that they have support.  At some point soon, I will consider my coaching options and will make one more stop on the coaching journey.  I thought that Northern Guilford would be where I retired from coaching, but that is not to be, so I will find one more home and continue to work to help kids achieve their goals.