INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Eric Brand, the boys basketball coach at Southport High School, readily admits to writing a $5,500 check to clear up the immigration status of a student.
Brand raised the money through a nonprofit called Southport Basketball Club Inc. He signs all the checks that come from the organization. He knew signing this one check could be a problem.
Nickens Paul Lemba, the student-athlete in question, is from the Congo. He has an F1 visa that requires him to pay tuition at any public school. Southport says it has a rule that prohibits students with F-1 visas from playing varsity sports. With that in mind, the coach raised the money to pay the tuition
“Honestly didn’t know what I was doing was wrong. I was transparent with my superiors the whole time. I felt like if I raised the money, the fact that this young man could not this year play varsity basketball, I still don’t understand why we are being punished,” Brand said.
The student in question is considered one of the great basketball talents in the country. He is 6-feet-6 and very athletic.
Brand says the student was brought to the United States by a someone with ill intent, who eventually abandoned the 15-year-old in central Indiana. The coach and another employee of the school system stepped up to help.
“I saw distress. I saw a young man, spirit dying. I saw a young man in trouble and at the time the only way I knew to help him was to help raise this money,” Brand said.
The Southport Fieldhouse is loaded with the accolades earned by this program over the last 100 years. This year, the Indiana High School Athletic Association said Brand’s team violated recruiting rules and is not allowed to play for a state championship. Perry Township Schools Assistant Superintendent Robert Bohannon says he is hopeful the Indiana High School Athletic Association will reverse its decision. An appeal hearing is set for 2 p.m. Dec. 4.
“I believe that once the IHSAA has an opportunity to look at all the details in this particular case, it would be my hope they would view this differently and make changes to participate in the tournament,” Bohannon said.