By Steve Solloway
Lee Academy will keep the Eastern Class C boys' basketball championship it won last winter and its state title from 2011, but the school has been placed on two years of probation by the Maine Principals' Association for providing inducements to one or more of its student-athletes.
The inducements, which can include financial aid, gifts or other benefits not offered to all students, are in violation of the MPA's policy on athletic recruitment. Lee Academy is a private academy of about 300 students located east of Lincoln. According to the school's website, it has about 100 boarding students from 17 countries and 15 states.
The cost for a boarding student is $31,000 a year. Private schools that are MPA members can offer financial aid based on need, but not based on athletic talent.
Lee Academy beat Dirigo High of Dixfield 65-55 to win the 2011 state title, but Dirigo beat the Pandas in the 2012 state final, 74-67. Dirigo Principal Michael Poulin filed a letter of complaint with the MPA on March 20. The MPA investigated, with the findings going before a three-member panel that met twice and then recommended probation on Oct. 9.
The association's Interscholastic Management Committee approved the recommendation on Nov. 6. Neither the schools involved nor the MPA sought to publicize the probation, but MPA Executive Director Dick Durost did respond when word of the probation became public.
"You can never feel good that you're asked to look into something like this. Something like this (putting a member school on probation) is rare. In my 12 years here I think it's happened two other times.
"I'm proud that we have a system and process in place to address concerns one member school has with another member."
Durost would not identify the members of the panel, which consisted of a school principal requested by Lee Academy, a principal requested by Dirigo, and a principal approached by Durost. The principals volunteered their time, and Durost did not want to subject any of them to recriminations, he said.
As part of its probation, Lee Academy will provide the MPA with its written policies on its admission process and its tuition and room and board costs, and which of its students are competing in interscholastic sports. The MPA will not identify the specific infraction or infractions that resulted in the probation.
Lee Academy Headmaster Bruce Lindberg told the Bangor Daily News, "We don't agree that we've done anything wrong. We operate as a private school and private schools have to function different than a public school. We are going to respect the decision of the MPA committee. We'll file the appropriate information. We know we're on probation."
The violations fall under the MPA bylaws entitled "Inducements for Athletic Purposes" which include about a dozen points. A school cannot offer anything to a student-athlete it doesn't offer to all students.
Extra monetary aid or gifts are an obvious infraction. Less obvious may be increased pay for work done by student-athletes on campus, or taking care of the expenses of parents or guardians visiting the school.
Lee Academy's probation is of statewide interest. Many town academies are building dormitories to attract boarding students to counter declining enrollments. The MPA formed an ad-hoc committee eight years ago to look at the impact of boarding students on interscholastic sports.
Durost said Thursday there were plans last winter to reconvene a committee during the current school year to look at the issue again.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: