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Hartford's Capital Prep Bypasses Lottery, Wins Championship, Raises Questions

It was 1st-and-10 from the Capital Prep 39-yard line. There were under four minutes left in the opening quarter of a 2014 Connecticut High School Football championship game. North Branford had the ball, up 7-6.
Austin Calamita caught a 43-yard pass and ran to Capital Prep’s 15-yard line. The last guy on defense to make the stop was Capital Prep’s Tyrell Boseman. On the next play, North Branford turned the ball over. They eventually lost the game by a touchdown.

But now there’s a question about whether Boseman -- the player who helped save a touchdown -- should have been on the field in the first place. Boseman told The Hartford Courant a few weeks back that he never entered a lottery, and now concerns about Capital Prep’s circumvention of the lottery are getting attention.

“It’s a little aggravating,” said Nick Sagnella, who played on that North Branford team and was unaware of the enrollment scandal. “I wish something could be done about that if that is the case that they had those kids participate in football and help them win that game.”

At issue is the state’s magnet school lottery system, which is designed to help integrate schools in the Hartford region. Earlier this month, state auditors found that 45 out of 162 total new students that entered Capital Prep for the 2014-2015 school year were admitted without winning a seat through the lottery. That’s the same year they won the state football championship.

The news has raised questions about whether principals were deliberately circumventing the system--cherry picking students into competitive schools.

What’s the state doing about it? The Department of Education did its own audit and found that 15 new students had bypassed the lottery at Capital Prep for the 2015-16 school year. As a result, the state withheld about $196,000 from the school. It also says that, with the exception of an extreme case, no student should bypass the lottery.

But even though fielding an ineligible player can get a school punished, any action from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference -- the CIAC -- is unlikely.

“We have some folks out there saying, ‘Well, is the CIAC going to do anything?’” CIAC Executive Director Karissa Niehoff said. “And, our board certainly did not consider doing that. We’ve not made a practice of being retroactive in that regard and stripping teams of championships.”

Calamita, the North Branford wide receiver, also didn’t know about the controversy. It left him stunned.

“What they’re capable of and whoever was on that team that wasn’t supposed to be, if they contributed enough to that game—it could matter,” he said. “But it is what it is -- it happened,” Calamita said.

Sidney Jones also played that day in 2014, but he played for Capital Prep. He said he checks out -- he said he got into the school in sixth grade through the lottery.

He now plays college ball. But he’s also been all over social media disagreeing with people who think Capital Prep should give back its trophy. He said his team earned that state title.

“To win those state championships means something for a school that’s only been around for 10 or 11 years and to see how fast we were able to progress,” Jones said. “Those mean something, so to take them away -- I think it’s ridiculous.”

Luckily for Capital Prep, the conference apparently won’t try to take back its championship. But the state won’t be so gracious. For every student that sidesteps the lottery, the department of education could hold back something more valuable: money.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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