Don’t punish the kids

Tuesday brought us the fall of the St. Louis area’s most iconic high school football program, as the Illinois State High School Association removed the East St. Louis Flyers from this season’s playoffs.

The Flyers had to forfeit five wins this year and all of their victories from last year because of residency issues surrounding defensive end Charles Tigue. Tigue was arrested on charges of armed robbery, and when the police report came out, his address was listed as being in East Belleville. When Tigue wore an ankle bracelet for his house arrest, his time was spent at the Belleville residence. According to his official residence, he should have been a Belleville East student, although his father…an East St. Louis assistant…said Tigue lived with a relative in Washington Park.

The IHSA investigated, and determined that indeed Tigue should not have been a player at East St. Louis.

Additionally, the father of the Flyers’ best running back, Anthony Pierson, claims that East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett and his staff recruited Pierson last summer. Pierson played at Gateway Tech last season, and his father lives in Jennings. Anthony Pierson, Sr., told the Post-Dispatch and the Belleville News Democrat that Pierson is now living with his mother in Cahokia…once again outside ESL’s boundaries.

Sunkett has been accused of recruiting in the past, dating all the way back to when Damian Nash followed his coach from Riverview to East St. Louis. Other coaches believe Sunkett has poached their players for years, and only now is being caught.

East St. Louis is iconic because of the class and caring that coach Bob Shannon showed during his tenure there in the 70’s and 80’s. Shannon took what East St. Louis had to offer and molded those players into National Champions in 1985 and 1989. Players like Bryan Cox, Dana Howard and Kellen Winslow beat the odds. They grew up in East St. Louis, and overcame the obstacles they were presented to become great players and men. They did it with the help of Shannon, who often said his players were going to be in one of two places…on the practice field with him or getting in trouble on a street corner. For Shannon, football was secondary to education, which he told players provided them freedom from the streets of East St. Louis.

Shannon didn’t have to recruit the best talent way from other schools. He brought impressionable young men into his program, and instilled character, discipline and hard work. Not to say Sunkett doesn’t, but apparently he isn’t doing it with kids from East St. Louis. He’s taking the best players that are supposed to be playing with other programs and using them for his own victorious benefit.

It’s a mistake for the IHSA to take away those team wins. Teenagers don’t ultimately decide where to live or go to school…they need guidance for that. If Anthony Pierson Sr. is telling the truth, the price should be paid by Sunkett, but the kids should be able to play in the playoffs with a different coach. Sunkett should lose his wins and his championship. The IHSA may suspend him for a year, which is a possibility, with the threat of being banned forever if this happens again.

It’s interesting that we’re talking about this happening again. It NEVER would have happened when Bob Shannon made the Flyers the pride of East St. Louis.