Coach suspended for playing girl in tournament

Wednesday, December 8th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) -- Youth basketball coach Michael Horton knew the rules prohibit him from playing a girl in a national boy's tournament, but he did it anyway. Now he's been suspended for three years. "I would do it again for her," Horton said of 10-year-old Tatiana Ortiz.

The suspension means he can't participate in Amateur Athletic Union tournaments, AAU president Bobby Dodd said Wednesday. It doesn't prohibit him from coaching his team at a Chicago YMCA. "This coach and this mother tried to play last year and they were stopped last year and turned right around and did it this year," Dodd said.

The AAU tournament in Florida last July was for boys 11 and under. Even though Tatiana had played on the Chicago Demons for three years, she was ineligible for the tournament. "The rule isn't fair," Tatiana said. "I can play against boys in other games." Tatiana traveled to Florida with her mother, instead of with the team, and stayed with relatives.

But with the Demons mathematically eliminated before their final game and trailing badly in that game, Horton figured it wouldn't matter if the team got disqualified. "I knew we weren't going to win that tournament game. We were down by more than 20 points," said Horton, recreation director of the New City YMCA on Chicago's north side.

So he put her in, the referee shrugged it off and the game went on. But the AAU was unwilling to let it pass. "I understand the coach's compassion," Dodd said. "The coach was suspended because he deliberately used an ineligible player. Coaches can't make up their own rules." Eddie Clinton, administrator of the AAU's girls' tournaments, said the organization offers "all kinds of basketball tournaments for girls" but none for coed teams.

Tatiana's teammate Mikey Herlo wants that to change. "She's a good player," he said. "She has a very good jump shot." The players and their parents say they will write to the AAU urging the reinstatement of their coach.