When the school bell rings Monday morning, Anthony Bratton isn’t expected to be in class.
Not at Omaha Westside, which the senior attended until last week. Not at returning state champion Omaha South, which is where his family wants him to be.
Not at any of the six other Omaha Public Schools that, along with South, he seems eligible to attend and represent in sports.
That apparently is the rub. A high-profile athlete’s family wants to make an in-season move. It’s very rare but apparently legal, save for an if — if undue influence is involved — and it has some in the Metro Conference upset.
Bratton’s family wanting him to play for South is not circumventing rules. NSAA bylaw 184.108.40.206 appears clear — an option-enrollment student such as Bratton can return to any school in the district where his parents live and be eligible for varsity sports.
Yes, that’s a loophole. A legal loophole. One that should be closed, but attempts to do so through Nebraska School Activities Association legislation have failed.
Bratton went to Westside out of junior high as an option-enrollment student. He made varsity as a freshman, came back from a leg fracture in the offseason to start as a sophomore and was an 18-point, 10-rebound player last season while making the All-Metro third team.
Now at 6-foot-7, Bratton is a college prospect.
While her son enjoyed being at Westside and prefers to stay there, Wylesha Batth told me Friday night she was growing disenchanted with the school and some of its basketball coaches. A South graduate, she and husband William Franklin have at times considered switching Anthony to South since the end of his freshman season.
“But he wanted to go to Westside,” said Batth, a mother of eight who is a mental health professional. The family lives in Burke’s attendance zone and a daughter goes there.
Batth’s timeline starts with contacting South — specifically assistant Tyrie Fant, whom the couple have known from their school days. She said that happened Dec. 2, a day after Westside opened with a loss to Fremont.
“‘Hey, what’s your program like? I’m thinking about transferring my son,’” Batth said. “South said, ‘This is what we have going on. Come in, take a tour, let’s see if there’s even a fit.’ ”
On Dec. 4, a Sunday, the couple said, they called Bruce Chubick. The Packers’ coach said that was his first contact with the family.
Last Tuesday, Bratton didn’t go to Westside’s practice. His stepfather took him to South as the Packers were ending their practice. When a Westside assistant called Bratton about his whereabouts, as reports were swirling on social media of his possible departure, the couple said Bratton was asked if he was going to South. Bratton told the coach no papers had been signed and the assistant wished him good luck in the event he went to South. Various media outlets, including The World-Herald, reported erroneously that the transfer was done.
The next day, Batth said, her meeting with Westside Athletic Director Tom Kerkman was contentious. On Thursday, she withdrew her son from Westside in the morning and in the afternoon went to South to enroll him.
Bratton was prepared to play that night for the Packers, who had a game at Millard West, but was told his enrollment had not yet been approved and he could not suit up.
The OPS placement office left a voice message on Franklin’s phone at 3:35 p.m. Thursday, but the couple said it wasn’t retrieved until Friday. They said they have not spoken to the placement office since then, but OPS board member Justin Wayne, whom they know, told them Friday that South was full and Bratton could not enroll there. And that Burke is full, too.
Metro athletic directors, after their scheduled monthly meeting Wednesday, followed up with an emergency executive-board session Thursday. That group is saying nothing, and many members went to Nashville over the weekend for their national convention.
Sources say Westside has submitted evidence to the NSAA alleging undue influence by South — most likely, using the NSAA’s phrasing, “any attempt by a representative of a school or any individual or group outside the school to recruit a student(s) in order to gain his/her services in the school’s activity program via personal, social media, electronic, US Mail, or third party contact prior to a student’s enrollment.”
If no undue influence comes to light, the schools seem to have themselves to blame for leaving the loophole open. Kerkman last week said several years ago he proposed closing it. It never made it out of the NSAA legislative district that includes the Metro Conference.
The Bratton situation needs to be resolved quickly. It’s finals time, and time is of the essence. Unless undue influence is proven, keeping Bratton out of South could result in legal action, and Batth, who acknowledges she’s a “mother bear,” is ready for battle.
“I’m his mother. I’m from South and I want him to go to my school,” she said Friday night. “They said my son could go to South. I think they should make it good.
“He’s all excited about it. South has welcomed Anthony. There hasn’t been anything wrong. Why has everybody been dragging it out?”
Said her husband, “I think some of this is going to be unprecedented.”