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For NHIAA's Corbin, no easy exit

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 17. 2014 2:37AM
NHIAA Executive Director R. Patrick Corbin is retiring at the end of the school year. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD -- Patrick Corbin's run at the helm of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association is coming to a close.

His term at the top of the organization that governs high school sports in the state is not likely to end quietly.

Corbin, who announced in November that he was stepping down as executive director of the NHIAA and last month passed his eight-year mark with the group, now has a little more than six weeks to go until he steps down on the last day of June.

Jeff Collins, the principal at Portsmouth High School, will take over at the NHIAA on July 1.

These final weeks will be filled with the usual debate that surrounds the fierce competition that takes place with tournament titles and championship hardware on the line. There will no doubt be discussions about calls made by officials on the field and courts, and chances are there will be difficult decisions to be made on when to play, or not play, because of weather conditions in a season that started late because of a long winter.

There has been plenty of debate, much of it heated, the last few months as Corbin and the NHIAA have dealt with a series of issues involving the Pembroke Academy basketball team.

Eligibility denied

The latest revolves around Dominic Timbas, a 6-foot, 5-inch junior forward, who sought a waiver to receive another year of basketball eligibility.

Timbas completed the eighth grade in Bedford and then repeated the year in a home-schooling program. In the meantime, the family moved to Pembroke, and Dominic played three years for the Spartans, helping the team to the state Division II championship the last two years.

He wants to play one more year as a senior.

But NHIAA rules state that players are eligible for no more than eight consecutive semesters of competition after the completion of eighth grade.

Pembroke Academy requested a waiver to allow Timbas to play.

Corbin denied the waiver.

The Timbas family disagrees strongly with the ruling and through the school has appealed it. The eight-semester rule is in place to prevent "redshirting," an acceptable and common practice in college athletics, especially football, that buys players an extra year to learn their team's system and work on getting bigger and stronger to be better prepared for when they start playing in games.

Redshirting is not allowed by the NHIAA for several reasons.

Among them: "A maximum participation requirement promotes harmony and fair competition among member schools by maintaining equality of eligibility," reads part of the entry under the heading "Rationale for the Semester Rule" in the 2013-14 NHIAA handbook of rules and regulations. "Each student is afforded the same number of semesters of athletic ability, which increases the number of students who will have an opportunity to participate in interscholastic athletics.'

Timbas, in the Monitor, said Corbin falsely told him the eligibility decision was not the executive director's to make. Corbin countered he never told Timbas any such thing and said that Timbas, in a very cordial phone conversation a couple of days earlier, had said that he was not trying to sway Corbin's decision.

Corbin said the NHIAA does not get many requests for players to compete beyond eight semesters, adding that waivers are seldom granted.

He said he can recall granting one during his eight years as executive director.

Before the basketball season started, Pembroke Academy brought the names of three students who are basketball players and were transferring into the school to Corbin and asked him to rule on their eligibility. One was allowed to play, two were not.

The prior cases had no bearing on the Timbas issue, Corbin said.

"It has nothing to do with Pembroke," he said. "It happens to be a Pembroke student, but on the merits of that case, I would have ruled the same way no matter what school in New Hampshire he attended.

"People have tried to pull it in as part of some 'getting' Pembroke issue, or some vendetta, but it really isn't."

Not afraid to say 'no'

The entire situation perhaps goes back to something more basic, Corbin suggested.

"It's always easier to say yes to anybody's request," he said. "Quite frankly, that's what has made this job and the job of high school athletic directors and principals and superintendents in this day and age so difficult. And I'm not talking about the Timbas family in any way, I'm talking about parents in general."

Corbin does not shy away from the issues - or from saying no.

"He's willing to take on tough issues, and he doesn't back away from them," said Chick Smith of Concord, a longtime basketball official who has gotten to know Corbin better and become friends with him while serving as supervisor of basketball officials the last four years.

"He gets stuck in some miserable positions sometimes, and they're highly emotional. I used to think that was a nice, cushy job until I saw it in action. You make no friends in that job. Nobody's calling up to say you ran a great tournament. When you get a call, it's usually a complaint."

The task, Corbin said, is to look out for what's best overall for the more than 42,000 athletes competing under the NHIAAA banner.

"I've never seen a guy who has consistently tried to do the right thing as much as he has, even though it might not be looked at as popular," Smith said. "He's got to make decisions based on the best interests of everyone and the rules. I think he does a great job."

Collins - who worked for and with Corbin, a former principal of both Salem and Nashua North high schools before coming to the NHIAA - agreed.

"He's as solid as they come," Collins said. "He's always there for the kids, and he's always worked for the benefit of the kids over the years."

Equity and expansion

Corbin is proud of the fact that under his watch the NHIAA has increased the numbers of sports it sanctions - adding bowling and fishing, as well as the unified sports of track and field, soccer and basketball - which opened the doors to hundreds of kids, at least, including many who had never anticipated they would play for their high school teams.

He's proud, too, of the gender equity in the NHIAA.

"We run about 50.9 percent males to 49.1 percent or so females participating," Corbin said. "It's almost 50-50, and those are the best numbers in the country."

Issues of transferring and eligibility, he thinks, are not going away.

"I think those issues are always going to be there," he said. "One of our major reasons for existence is to ensure equity of competition and equality of opportunity. We have to protect the integrity of the sports and integrity of competition."

That's a frequently thankless task, Smith said, that Corbin has done well.

"I do think there are probably a lot of people who will be glad to see him leave," Smith said. "I don't think the organization is going to be any better off for having him leave. I think he's going to be a tough guy to follow. I think this guy is a gem."