As a result, core courses, grades and graduation from the Laurinburg Institute will not be used when determining prospective student-athletes' initial eligibility to compete in intercollegiate athletics.
The NCAA's eligibility center began reviewing the Institute's curriculum, class schedules, teacher schedules, quality control practices and enrollment figures during the 2006-07 academic year. This investigation continued during the 2007-08 year, and through this year as well.
Those at the Institute say they are shocked at the NCAA's decision. The thing that is universal, when speaking to high-ranking staff members at Laurinburg, is that there is a total misunderstanding of what exactly it is the school has done incorrectly.
"I am not clear on that. In fact, that is one of the reasons for the appeal," said Laurinburg Institute headmaster Frank McDuffie Jr. "We are still unclear on what they are unhappy with."
"We're pretty much really kind of surprised by this decision," said Francis McDuffie, an English teacher and the vice president of the school. "They came to visit us for two days at a time, and we didn't think anything about it.
"We were really kind of surprised about it. We don't agree with their decision, and we'll try to fix whatever problems they see and get back to 'clear' status."
The NCAA also said that the Laurinburg Institute was notified of the concerns — at the top of that list were quality control and curriculum — and given an opportunity to respond to the specific issues. It also stated that the written response provided by school officials failed to sufficiently address the irregularities and deficiencies of Laurinburg Institute identified by the eligibility center staff.
The Laurinburg Institute is the oldest of only four remaining historically black-owned and operated boarding schools in the United States. The Institute has a rich history, with an alumni list that includes great names of the past such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Scott, Sam Jones and Joy Johnson (first African-American elected to the N.C. State General Assembly), and some of their most glorious times — athletically speaking — have come this century.
The 2004-05 Laurinburg team, coached by Chris Chaney, went 40-0 and won the school's second national prep title in three seasons. That team is still widely regarded as the greatest prep team ever assembled.
Dozens of players went on to Division I schools to play basketball during Chaney's four-year tenure. Among those were seven who went to Memphis, Joey Dorsey, Shawne Williams, Kareem Cooper, Robert Dozier, Chance McGrady, Roburt Sallie and Antonio Anderson.
Dozier, McGrady, Anderson and Dorsey were part of Memphis' national runner-up team last season, and no senior class in the history of college basketball has won more games than Memphis' 2009 class of Anderson, Dozier and McGrady.
Dozier, Williams and other players, including Renaldo Balkman and Von Wafer, are currently in the NBA.
Frank McDuffie used some of his school's most recognizable graduates to make a point.
"We here at Laurinburg have always said the proof is in the pudding. Concern started here over whether we were teaching school or not. I don't know of any kid whose left here who has flunked out of college.
"Almost all of our kids have stayed eligible, and the ones who were eligible to graduate have either graduated or left because of reasons that kids leave school for anyway ... They've either got a job like you and I, or have gone on to become multimillionaires.
"If we are going to take credit for failure, we also get to take credit for our success. They call us a 'diploma mill', but how do the two go hand in hand? If we're a diploma mill, then how could our kids be finishing college?"
There are 37 students enrolled at the Laurinburg Institute for the 2008-09 school year. Those students may have their individual academic records reviewed through the initial-eligibility process. A determination will be made regarding their NCAA initial-eligibility status based on this review.
A press release released by the school seems to convey the feeling that the Laurinburg Institute could be viewed as an easy target. The school is small in numbers, and, cosmetically speaking, is not in the absolute best shape.
"While some may hope this will be a devastating blow to the Institution, the Laurinburg Institute will continue to persevere and demonstrate the same resolve and resilience that has allowed it to survive its post-slavery past," Frank McDuffie was quoted as saying in the press release.
Frank McDuffie also seemed to concede during his interview with The Laurinburg Exchange on Thursday that, yes, perhaps the Laurinburg Institute is different, but that if the end result — successfully preparing post-graduate students for college — is being achieved, then there should be no problem.
"Maybe they don't understand what we're doing," he said. "But if we're having so much success, maybe they should be asking us what we're doing."
Editor's Note: Jennifer Kearns, associate director of public and media relations with the NCAA, was contacted by The Laurinburg Exchange on Thursday and asked for a deeper explanation of what the high school review staff's findings against the Laurinburg Institute were. Kearns returned the message, and stated that it was highly unlikely the NCAA would release that information at any point.