The saga of South Side and Austin Boucher’s transfer His parents want the public to know the truth.
What happened to Austin Boucher?
That question has been asked countless times in numerous locales over the course of the last few months. The former South Side standout’s departure from the area, and the circumstances dictating the egress, continue to be debated.
Last season, the 6-foot-2 guard averaged over 25 points per game, including a 54-point effort against Muncie Central in sectional play. He was First Team All-Summit Athletic Conference and a member of The News-Sentinel All-Area Team.
Then, he was gone.
Boucher’s parents – Joel and Tamra – felt that the public needed an explanation. The rumors and hearsay throughout the summer and into the fall did not dissipate over time, but rather gained momentum.
Mother and father have heard it all, from their son being a bad teammate to how he wanted to transfer to North Side purely for basketball reasons.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Austin’s parents say.
“When you say no comment, people fill in the blanks themselves,” father Joel Boucher said. <br>
<center> COMING TO SOUTH </center><br>
In 2014, Austin Boucher enrolled at South Side as a freshman after a year at Bellmont Middle School. Young for his grade, Boucher had attended Bellmont for just one year as his former school, Norwell Middle School, did not allow kids be held back a grade unless it was due to academic issues.
To Boucher’s parents, heading to South Side from the rural area of Wells County was for two reasons – to diversify Austin’s experiences with students of other races and backgrounds as well as to play basketball against the region’s best players.
The Bouchers have never denied the fact that playing against elite basketball competition was important. It is just not the reason Austin departed South Side.
“He wanted to play in the SAC, he wanted to go prove he could play,” Joel said. “We wanted to send him to a diverse school and he wanted to play against high-level competition in the area.”
“The fact that South Side offered an ideal academic situation to prepare for college was high on the list as well.
“We felt like Austin would have opportunities in college to be in a larger world, a more diverse world,” Tamra said. “In Wells County it is pretty homogenous.”
But according to the Bouchers, things began to go south almost as soon as Austin began playing basketball. At first, short comments and dirty looks were the extent of the perceived abuse, but as time went on, it escalated.
In November of 2014, abuse from some members of the crowd, including South Side players’ families, began against Austin and his father, who was an assistant coach.
In January of 2015, the Bouchers said negative comments and threats against Austin were found on Facebook. They were quickly deleted, with the family not seeing them prior to their deletion despite being told they were “horrible”. <br>
<center> ONGOING ISSUES </center><br>
Sophomore year, the abuse escalated, said the Bouchers. Alleged lack of discipline within the program led by Coach Michael Novell included behavioral and verbal outbursts by players and players’ parents against teammates, especially Austin.
In mid-December, 2015, a few fans – including a relative of a player – came down from the stands and got into a verbal altercation with Joel on the bench during a game.
Throughout the incidents, the Bouchers met with South Side administrators and others attempting to rectify the situation and ensure that their son was safe in an increasingly hostile environment.
“As things were happening, it was important to us to try and resolve it,” Tamra said. “We didn’t want to make it into a big deal. We wanted to resolve it and move forward in a positive manner.
“It came to a point where it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen.”
Citing safety concerns, the Boucher family agreed that Austin was better off not playing in the SAC Holiday Tournament in late December of 2015. For the Archers’ second game, Austin sat on the bench in warm-up attire.
Austin returned to the team in the new year, with the Bouchers citing more examples of abuse through the end of basketball season. South Side administrators continued to ensure the safety of Austin in their building, despite the family’s misgivings.
As a mother, Tamra was especially tense in the closing days of the 2015-16 season as well as throughout the spring semester at South Side. Every time Austin was late coming out of school to get his ride or did not answer the phone, she feared the worst.
“I was very, very nervous,” Tamra said. <br>
<center> LEAVING SOUTH </center><br>
After much discussion, it was decided that Austin Boucher would transfer for his junior year due to the conditions at South Side. Despite repeated attempts at rectifying the situation, the Bouchers did not feel safe having their son at the school.
“We begged them to do something,” Tamra said. “He would still be (at South Side) if they did. He’s not jumping schools just to better his basketball position. He just wanted out of an unsafe, bad situation.”
After looking in to several different schools – including area private schools and Snider – the Bouchers settled on North Side.
“It came down to Snider not being a good fit academically for Austin and the private schools…we didn’t want to lie about religion, plus there is a price tag applied to those,” Tamra said. “North Side has, next to South Side, the best academic offerings.”
Boucher – who was a top-three student in his class at South Side – made the move to North over the summer. He played in a pair of tournaments with the basketball team and hoped to suit up for the squad this winter. <br>
<center> FIGHT FOR ELIGIBILITY </center><br>
One question remained, would South Side sign off on Austin’s transfer?
The answer was no.
According to the Boucher family, when they approached South Side in an effort to be granted immediate eligibility, they were denied. In fact, the Bouchers were told that South Side would not sign off on Austin being immediately eligible at any Indiana High School Athletic Administration (IHSAA) school, let alone one right down the road.
“South Side principal Carlton Mable adamantly said, ‘no'” Joel said. “He said if he signed off it’d be like saying that he’s not safe in my building.”
When the Bouchers sought a meeting with Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson, they were denied.
“(FWCS’) attorney spoke to our attorney and said they were not going to meet with us at all,” Joel said.
The Bouchers then appealed the IHSAA for eligibility, writing a seven-page blow-by-blow account of their experiences on and off the court at South Side and submitting it to Commissioner Bobby Cox.
The family felt confident that the evidence presented coupled with verbiage pulled from the IHSAA Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation would be enough to see Austin be granted full eligibility.
According to Rule 17-8.3 regarding waivers in the IHSAA bylaws, “A transfer because of safety concerns may sometimes meet the general waiver rule criteria and may grant full eligibility. In cases where the family believes that there is an unsafe school environment, the student must show a problem and that problem makes remaining on that campus a dangerous situation. The preferable proof would include school reports of incidents involving the student, evidence that the student requested the school to provide assistance in dealing with the problem and proof that the problem persisted. Proof of rumors of potentially dangerous conditions will probably not support a student’s request for a student eligibility general waiver.”
On August 30, Cox responded with the ruling that Boucher would not be immediate eligible at North Side and would be limited to junior varsity play for the entirety of the 2016-17 season.
In the e-mail sent to the Bouchers, Cox detailed why he ruled the way he did.
“There are several provisions under Rule 19-6.1 (regarding eligibility and transfer) where your son might have achieved full eligibility under these circumstances however as I review the transfer report information, your son meets none of these qualifiers,” Cox said.
The IHSAA said that a residence address used in the transfer request – an apartment in the North Side district utilized by Joel and Tamra’s son – “does not meet the standard of a bona fide change of residence by the parent and student.”
The Bouchers disagreed.
“With the situation being what it was, we didn’t make up an address, we didn’t call somebody we know and say we lived there,” Tamra said. “We had a legit address and Austin was staying there. This was probably one of the most legit transfers in Fort Wayne in several years.” <br>
<center> ENDGAME </center><br>
With no possibility of playing varsity basketball this season, the Bouchers had to make a choice – either Austin stays at North Side, plays JV and is eligible next season or look at prep schools.
When asked about the details of what happened at South Side, the subsequent transfer and Austin Boucher’s declared ineligibility, Fort Wayne Community Schools declined comment with the exception of a statement.
“Because this (story) involves a student, there really isn’t anything we can say about the specific facts of the situation,” said FWCS Public Information Officer Krista Stockman. “All I can say is that we followed our procedures regarding student transfers and the IHSAA made the final decision.”
An effort to reach South Side athletics director Tim Burton for comment failed.
After much deliberation, it was decided that Austin would head east and attend St. James Prep School in Hagerstown, Md. There he would be able to play basketball immediately and continue his schooling at a top-rate educational institution.
But the pain of leaving was real. Despite consistent and elevating issues at South Side, Austin fit in well at North Side academically, socially and athletically. He melded nicely with the Legends’ basketball team throughout the summer and into the early fall and saw his recruitment pick up as college coaches stopped in to see standouts Jaylen Butz and Keion Brooks Jr.
Making the decision to leave North Side was a difficult one.
“When I called (North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq) to tell him we had found this prep school, telling him that Austin was leaving was almost as hard as deciding to take Austin somewhere else,” Tamra said. “He had been so good to Austin.”
Khaliq declined to comment for this story.
The departure of Boucher not only robbed the area of one of its best basketball players, but cost FWCS one of its brightest students.
The future remains uncertain. Austin may return to North Side for his senior campaign next year, or he may decide to stay in Maryland for his final year of high school.
“It’s worked out well for him (at St. James), he likes it,” Joel said. “But let’s be honest, we’d rather have him home in our house going to school.”
“We want a view of this that is true,” Tamra said. “Austin is not hopping schools because of anything other than safety.” <br>
<i> Follow Justin Kenny on Twitter at jkenny_ns. </i>