By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
Once you cross the bridge, there is no guarantee of success. Guarding the other end of the bridge are the trolls from the land of opportunity. These are the inheritors of [the positions] who were born on this side … and see anyone entering their land as a threat. – Patrick B. Reyes
Former Toledo Central Catholic Girls Head Basketball Coach Ericka Haney’s resume seemed to speak for itself.
Haney’s achievements as a local high-school athlete at Central Catholic are legendary. Her accolades include Metro City Basketball Player of the year, two-time first-team all-state, and an Honorable Mention All-American.
In addition, she still owns school records of 1,353 career points and 11.4 rebounds. Haney led Central to a 25-2 record and state tournament as a senior, scoring 26 points in 1998 state semi-final loss.
A multi-star athlete, Haney also led Central’s volleyball team to its first-ever state tournament and was a high school All-American in track, ranking fifth nationally while setting school records in the 100 and 200-meter sprints and 400-meter hurdles.
Then, while in college, Haney played a pivotal role in helping the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team capture their first national championship in the program’s vaunted history.
She was later drafted by the WNBA’s Detroit Shock in 2002 and played professionally for a short time in Sweden.
Yet, according to her friends, Haney’s greatest desire was to return home and do great things for her high school Alma Mater.
So, it was a no-brainer for the Central Catholic leadership to name its Athletic Hall of Fame alumna and Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame member as Head Coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team in May 2020.
There has always been a need for more coaching diversity in girls’ high school hoops at Toledo’s Parochial and Catholic schools. So, when Haney, a trailblazer as the first Black woman coach at Central Catholic (CCHS), immediately started winning, the problems seemed to develop.
Last season Haney’s team reached the Division II regionals finishing with 24 wins and 2 losses. This year, the team was ranked No. 3 in the final D-II state poll and won its second straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference title when OHSAA removed the team amid another deep tourney run for allegedly committing multiple recruiting violations.
Although CCHS officially lists Haney as suspended indefinitely, according to sources, she was “forced to resign.”
What really happened?
CCHS has kept things on “low-profile” and Haney, according to those close to the situation, was told to “zip it, put it in your pocket, and lock it.” So, apparently, an agreement was made which could threaten her severance if she speaks out.
However, the word on the street identifies a recruiting violation centered around texts about a student who allegedly said she was racially harassed at Sylvania Northview. Another student allegedly wanted to transfer from Whitmer to Central.
As the team continued to win, other texts were incrementally provided to authorities over a period of time. Others say that although the alleged recruiting violations occurred five months before the sanctions, the various texts were sent to the authorities as the basketball team garnered more success on the court.
Specifically, insiders say, an assistant returned a text asking one of the students, “are you planning to come to Central’s Open House event? Hope to see you!”
For Haney, “appointing friends as assistants who lacked prior coaching experience was a misstep. Relying on staff members without any training on OHSAA recruiting rules is another,” said sources. Apparently, the first two violations were committed by an assistant coach and a staff member. “Haney spoke up for them and got burned in the process,” according to swirling rumors.
Another anonymous friend confided, “Haney’s sin was trying to be a counselor, helping kids get through an emotional issue without understanding OHSAA rules. There were no promises of money, tuition assistance, vouchers, or preying on vulnerable young people.”
Crossing the Bridge
As a trailblazing Black woman coach in the Parochial School environment, Haney’s real challenge is navigating white spaces not created for her to operate in. Although being a former superstar athlete and the pride of CCHS provided Haney access, her favored status did not guarantee her success as a coach.
Scholar Patrick B. Reyes says once first-generation [Black women coaches] have attained access to cross that particular bridge, “they are in a land that is completely foreign with no real help or guidance.” People of color are often navigating hyper-competitive systems like coaching that are “not designed for us and must mirror dominant cultural definitions of success where privileged descendants of power and privilege inherit a world built and designed for them.”
The truth is that all coaches contact potential players directly or indirectly but have learned how to do it within the rules. They can speak suggestively to potential recruits without leaving paperwork, text messages, or other documentation that can be used against them. But in the hyper-competitive arena of sports, no one reveals their secrets on going up to (or even across) the boundaries without appearing to break the rules.
On the other hand, because of their scarcity in the coaching ranks, Black women must almost always be perfect, constantly operating with little margin for error.
As a young first-time head coach in what a former graduate and board member called a “repressive and patriarchal religious high school,” Haney apparently “did not recognize her new surroundings, had no guides or mentors, and had to navigate her newly gained access on her own, making it difficult to impossible to achieve her goals.”
Nevertheless, although Erica took an “L” on the CCHS job, she is still a champion and a woman of integrity who, despite mistakes, is resilient and will bounce back to turn the loss into a win.
Yet, Haney can learn from the experience. New opportunities will certainly arise, and she can again cross the bridge to build, manage, lead, and guard if she chooses.
More importantly, though, Haney has also learned that she doesn’t have to merely settle with gaining access to parochial or other systems that, in Reyes’ words, “imagine they are meritocracies.” She also can choose to “build in her own spaces, and on her own terms.”
Therefore, those that follow and learn from her will also “have access to the resources, knowledge, and practices to achieve big dreams.”
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org