José Luis Villegas /

Coach Joey Rollings has guided Sheldon to four straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division I titles.

Sheldon basketball coach suspended four weeks

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 - 10:48 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 - 11:24 pm

Sheldon High School boys basketball coach Joey Rollings was suspended for four weeks Tuesday by the Elk Grove Unified School District after months of investigating that included interviews with players, parents, coaches and administrators after allegations of undue influence to lure players.

Rollings, who can return on the eve of the postseason, is banned from attending practices or games, though he will continue to work as a physical education teacher.

It’s believed to be the harshest penalty for a coach in this region.

Rollings coached Sheldon to a large school-record four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championships the past four seasons and has directed the Huskies’ summer competition, when parents often make decisions about applying for transfers.

Sheldon principal Paula Duncan, who said she was given “a strong letter of reprimand” by the district but would not elaborate, said she doesn’t believe “any of our coaches were out recruiting players. As for parents or those affiliated with (summer all-star) teams, that’s different, and we will work on that, too.”

Duncan, who said Sheldon’s title teams were anchored by players who grew up together in the immediate Sheldon area, said longtime Sheldon assistant coach Mike Bradley will fill in for Rollings.

“In the fall, an allegation of undue influence was brought to the District’s attention,” district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said in a statement. “We conducted a full investigation. The investigation found multiple CIF bylaws may have been violated. It also found that some District protocols were not followed.”

The Sac-Joaquin Section, which did not comment on the decision, has not announced if it also will penalize Sheldon. The section also hasn’t ruled on the eligibility of three students who transferred to Sheldon at the beginning of the school year, including two two-time transfers. Trey Belton, who has gone from Elk Grove High to Capital Christian to Sheldon, hasn’t played for the Huskies. Neither has Tyras Rattler, who played one season at East Union in Manteca and last season at Modesto Christian, or Blake Mason, a transfer from Franklin.

A fourth transfer, Isaiah Brooks, who came from nearby Bradshaw Christian, has played in nine games for Sheldon this season.

All four players live within Sheldon’s attendance boundaries, the district’s investigation determined.

The district would not say if the undue influence allegations were tied to the transfers or if anyone else was punished, saying it was a personnel matter. The investigation began after a parent of a Sheldon player approached the parent of a player from another school within the district and suggested he consider Sheldon basketball.

The district will provide training for Sheldon and other EGUSD athletic programs to help avoid future problems, Graswich said.

“This is an unfortunate situation,” she said. “Our expectation is that students, staff, coaches, parents and volunteers all follow the rules. We will work closely with our athletic directors and coaches in the coming weeks to remind them of the rules to ensure everyone’s compliance.”

Duncan said clerical errors were made, such as failing to follow up within the required 60-day period to confirm address changes.

“I’m heartbroken,” Duncan said. “We self-reported to (section commissioner) Pete Saco in July the amount of transfers we had. We were up-front from the beginning, and we made mistakes and we’ll fix those mistakes. We admitted it, self-reported, and we’ll move on.”

Rollings said he is disappointed with the decision, and he questions the timing. His suspension starts tonight for the Delta River League opener against No. 4 Folsom. Rollings said he is considering legal action, “but I don’t want to hurt the kids, the players. They’ve been through a lot, and they haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I don’t recruit kids,” Rollings said. “Why would I need to recruit kids? We’ve had a great program with our own kids here. ... We didn’t follow through on some things on players, and we’ll learn from it. I also got dinged for having a kid from another school in my open gym. We have all kinds of kids in open gym because it might be cold, or raining, or hot outside, or they’re doing homework. It wasn’t an attempt to recruit a player. We’ll learn from it.”

Rollings said he was the fall guy. “I’m the low man on the totem pole,” he said. “I love my players. I love coaching, and I love Sheldon High School.”

Sheldon, 5-8 playing a tough schedule against state- and nationally ranked teams, has no senior starters. The Huskies’ leader is sophomore guard Devin Greene, who said his team was “crushed” by the decision.

“It doesn’t seem fair,” Greene said. “We know coach Rollings. He cares for us, wants the best for us. He wants us to win and be successful, but he doesn’t sell his soul to win.”

Greene’s father, Rod, was animated in speaking to district board members during Monday’s meeting. In a phone interview Tuesday, he defended Rollings.

“Here’s the thing, I’m in the AAU world, and Joey Rollings doesn’t have a clue about those players,” Greene said. “He doesn’t pay attention to it. We had a parent who approached a parent of a player at another school about coming to Sheldon, and that’s where this started. I said Monday that we’re dealing with a different animal these days. Children don’t decide where they go, parents do, and if we think parents don’t think strategically about where to take their kid, we’re naive. Everyone’s said this isn’t personal. It was personal, but we have to let the side issues settle and move forward.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

Read more articles by Joe Davidson

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