JV basketball player slapped with lifetime ban

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Middletown junior-varsity basketball player has been given a lifetime ban for pushing an official during a Jan. 28 game at Lower Lake.

As first reported by the Lake County Record-Bee, sophomore Brandon Thomas, 16, shoved referee Tim Morin with open palms twice, late in the fourth quarter of the Mustangs’ 56-51 victory. Morin called Thomas for a double-technical foul, resulting in the player’s immediate ejection, and Thomas has plunged into a downward spiral since then.

Middletown High administrators suspended Thomas for a week and have since revoked his interdistrict agreement — he had transferred from Lower Lake — effectively kicking him out of the school. Middletown also applied Section 211 of the California Interscholastic Federation bylaws and hit Thomas with a lifetime ban, meaning he can’t play any after-school sport for the remainder of his high school years.

Section 211 reads, in part: “Any student who physically assaults the person of a game or event official shall be banned from interscholastic athletics for the remainder of the student’s eligibility.”

The bylaws then go on to define the infraction: “A physical assault is the intentional infliction of or an attempt to inflict a harmful or offensive touching or contact upon the person of an official. Note that the rule is violated even if no contact is made with the person of an official.”

The lifetime ban is rare, if not unheard-of. North Coast Section commissioner Gil Lemmon said he is aware of several over the past 15 years.

Under state rules, Thomas can apply for reinstatement within 18 months of the date of the incident if he chooses. That threshold would come just before his senior year. The NCS could help with the filing and advise Thomas’ parents of their rights, but the final determination would be up to the CIF executive director.

Middletown JV coach Anthony Bazzano had turned away from the court when he heard a buzz from the crowd.

“I turned around and all hell had broken loose,” Bazzano said. “I saw the second contact. It happened right when I turned around. I immediately reacted, another player and I. We pushed Brandon to the baseline, got him to the locker room and calmed him down.”

Thomas, identified on the MaxPreps.com site as a 5-foot-10 guard/forward, was released into the custody of his father.

Bazzano had a lot on his plate that night. The varsity coach was out of town, and Bazzano was filling in with that team as well.

Middletown High athletic director Geri Giovannetti quickly reported the incident to the NCS and turned the matter over to principal Bill Roderick and dean of students Thad Owens.

“Our only involvement is making sure the school adheres to the rule and reports it to the league, and that the league is looking into it,” NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon said. “I’m sure Geri is on top of it.”

Bazzano has not spoken to Thomas in the aftermath of the pushing. His main goal now is to refocus his addled team — one that includes Thomas’ younger brother, Dylan. He’s still trying to make sense of a blowup that seemed to come from nowhere, in a game his team was leading by more than 20 points.

“I like Brandon on a personal level, but you can’t have that,” Bazzano said. “He’s learning a valuable lesson about the consequences of his actions. Whether the ban is too harsh or whatever, that’s not my decision.”

Giovannetti is retiring in June after 26 years at Middletown, 16 as athletic director, and it saddens her to have to deal with such an ugly situation on her way out.
“We don’t want that sort of reputation,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.