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HIGH SCHOOLS

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Suspicious minds still follow Independence football

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Although Independence High ended the 2007 football season with a loss, it opens practice today on a winning streak.

The Patriots beat the rap.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools investigated the football program with such rigor it was like “CSI: Independence.”

Many Patriots fans complained about overzealous CMS investigators. But they had to go hard. Otherwise, why go at all?

I know one of the men involved in the investigation and he is as ethical as he is thorough. And neither he nor his cohorts could prove that Independence sneaks football talent from other districts into its hallways and onto its roster.

This revelation will not stop fans of other schools from complaining. Fans who have friends will complain to human beings and the fans who don't will complain to message boards. Whether they speak or write, the message will be the same. They'll contend that Independence got a break.

There were no breaks. If the Patriots had recruited, if they had cheated, if they had changed addresses of players, they would have been nailed.

They're clean.

Independence won a phenomenal 109 straight games (a streak that ended Sept.1, 2007) and seven straight state championships.

When the streak began, fans of the sport were thrilled because Independence's good work attracted attention locally and nationally. Finally high school football, whose impact is often muted in cities, was getting noticed. Take that, Panthers.

But the more the Patriots won, the more the fans complained. Every season they called me and sent e-mail, and some even attached their names. Why don't you write the truth about Independence, they asked?

The truth, they said, was that secrets lurked beneath the glittery winning streak. Otherwise, why would the Patriots win so consistently?

They win because Tom Knotts is an exceptional coach, because he managed to keep his talented staff together and because the best players in Charlotte want to play for him.

When we think of students attending schools outside the district, we think of athletes. We shouldn't. Parents are much more likely to sneak their kids into a school for academic reasons.

What would you do, for example, if your daughter was an exceptional student and you believed Myers Park offered her a better shot at a college scholarship than the school to which she was assigned?

Would you find a way around the rules? Would you rent an apartment in the district? Would you drop her off at the Myers Park address at which the children of a cousin or a friend live so they could all walk to the bus stop together?

Would you tell a principal or a teacher what you did? Or, because you wanted the best for her, would you do it quietly?

What if your son excelled at football? Would you look for a way to send your running, blocking, tackling, passing progeny to the school that offered the best chance for a scholarship?

You might.

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