Paul Harris, the reigning News Player of the Year in boys basketball who was arrested on charges of assault in September, has been cleared to play this season by Niagara Falls High School.
Niagara Falls held its first practice of the season Monday. Dan Bazzani, Falls' athletic director and boys basketball coach, said he could not comment on the matter and referred to the following statement issued by the Niagara Falls City School District, which he handed out at Monday's practice:
"Paul Harris is a student in good academic standing in the Niagara Falls City School District. As such, he is eligible to participate in extra-curricular activities. He is, like any student, subject to the regulations and rules outlined in the District Eligibility Policy and Athletics Contract. Unless and until such time as any student may breech such policy, he or she remains welcome to participate in any team sport."
Bazzani said only that Harris was cleared to play and that no disciplinary action of any kind would be taken against him. The decision to allow Harris to play was finalized at a meeting last week between Bazzani, Niagara Falls superintendent Carmen Granto and principal James Spanbauer.
The eligibility policy/athletics contract is treated on a season-by-season basis. Student-athletes sign it at the start of the season and are subject to it until that sport's season concludes.
Under the "discipline/behavior" section of the contract, it reads: "All school rules will apply to student athletes. A student athlete may be dismissed from the team for lack of acceptable performance in school or conduct unbecoming a pupil in the Niagara Falls School District."
While Harris was cleared to play, he was not at the first practice. He was held out due to a groin injury. Bazzani said Harris was expected back within a week.
Harris, a top 20 national recruit by several scouting services, was arrested Sept. 23 and charged with third-degree assault after a fight with his girlfriend in his home. The misdemeanor is punishable upon conviction of up to a year in jail.
Harris volunteered for a 15-week anger management program at a court appearance on Oct. 5. On Oct. 19 he appeared in Niagara Falls City Court to report on his progress and a district attorney told the judge that Harris was attending school and had not behaved in a violent manner. Harris, a junior in his final year of athletic eligibility, is due in court today for another progress report.
Successful completion of the ATONE program -- for teenagers who show signs of violence in school, home or the community -- can result in the a lesser charge being offered by prosecutors.
Harris' trial is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2005. The first game for defending Section VI Class AA champion Niagara Falls is home against Kenmore East on Dec. 7; the Wolverines will also participate in high-profile tournaments at Fort Myers, Fla., and Lewes, Del., in December.