By Brandon Speck
The Mississippi High School Activities Association’s top executive has denied that his organization attempted to protect star players in the recent state basketball championship tournament.
Two Mississippi high school basketball referees, speaking anonymously, told the Daily Journal they were told at halftime of a March state championship game to do a better job of keeping a star player in the game.
One referee said a man came into their halftime room and said he was delivering a message from an MHSAA official, motioning with his hands that the large crowd at Mississippi Coliseum was there to see a certain player and the three-man crew needed to do a better job making sure the player stayed on the floor and not foul out or get too hassled on defense.
“It is not true,” MHSAA executive director Don Hinton said.
Hinton says the association has a director of officials who talks to officials pregame, at halftime and sometimes after the game. He says the meeting may revolve around keeping a game under control between two aggressive teams.
“As far as directing something toward a star player, that’s totally not true,” Hinton said.
One of the referees told the Journal that the three-man crew was told before the game that the crowd would be focused on a certain player and were told where he or she would be called out in the introductions. A fellow referee said a similar halftime conversation took place with him in a different championship game earlier in the championship week.
Members of the District I executive committee had a meeting with Hinton on Monday in Jackson about rumors of the conversation in the referees’ room. Monroe County superintendent Scott Cantrell and Pontotoc principal Paul Henry were among the board members at the meeting.
“We just wanted to make sure Mr. Hinton was aware of what was being said,” Cantrell said.
Hinton says all who participated were pleased with the outcome of the meeting and that the man accused of delivering the message has been cleared.
He said his office has not received a written complaint from a referee.
“We looked into that with that particular director. That did not happen,” Hinton said. “That individual has been working for a long, long time, has had that duty many years. That is not true.”
Hinton says maybe the officials misinterpreted the halftime message, though he says that’s hard to say since he wasn’t in any of the rooms where the alleged conversations took place.
“There was no mention that there was a star player,” Hinton said. “We spoke directly to them, simply a mention of making sure the game is under control. If there was anything done out of the integrity of the MHSAA or any of our schools, we certainly would be taking some kind of action on that.”
But a second referee confirmed that a man came into the room and said he was sent to deliver the message of doing a better job of protecting the player.