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CHAMPAIGN A coach’s decision to cut a key member of last year’s Champaign Central boys’ basketball team has prompted an administrative review by school district officials.

A throng of supporters, many wearing “Let Bailey Play” T shirts, turned out at Monday night’s school board meeting to express disappointment over the decision to cut Bailey Dee, one of the area’s top returning players, from the Maroons team before his senior season was to start.

“This is about the narrative,” said Will Kyles, Champaign’s longest serving black council member. “The narrative is this is a white man trying to steal my dreams.”

Others who spoke out Monday didn’t raise the race angle specifically but were equally adamant in their support of Dee.

Neither Dee nor his father, Leroy, who both attended Monday’s meeting at a packed Mellon Administrative Center, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

But in an interview with The News Gazette, Leroy Dee described being “absolutely shocked” at the news about his son.

“Basketball has always been his dream,” the father said. “He has been playing since his sophomore year and started. Then, all of a sudden, he was off the team completely. He can’t be a benchwarmer or anything his senior year. This is ludicrous.”

Neither Finke nor Central Athletic Director John Woods responded to messages left after Monday’s meeting. But before public comment began, Unit 4 school board President Chris Kloeppel announced that a review of the matter was under way by the district.

In a statement he read aloud, Kloeppel said: “A student and his family raised concerns about the process that governs tryouts for the boys varsity basketball team at Central High School. After meeting with his family to discuss their concerns,
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the administration began a review last week.

“We thank everyone who shares our desires to hold academics and athletics in Unit 4 to the highest standard and ask for your patience while administrators complete their review.”

Whether that diminishes the emotions involved remains to be seen.

After Kloeppel spoke, a number of prominent local African American leaders stepped to the microphone to show support for the player.

Said former Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery, a candidate for lieutenant governor: “We are going to stand here and support Bailey until justice is served. We know there is an investigation and are going to allow that process to take place.

“I’ve been watching Bailey play ball since he was a little boy. Not only does he love the game, he’s good at it. He’s a respectful young man. He’s not a troublemaker. He is using the game as a steppingstone to his future. To be denied that breaks my heart.”

Minnie Pearson, who succeeded Avery as local NAACP president, said she trusts that Unit 4 administrators will do the right thing.

“I pray for you to go back and make right decision for this young man,” she said. “Let’s not try to break this young man’s spirit. Don’t look the other way, school board.”

Asked about calls for a boycott of school next Tuesday by “students of color,” more than 20 attendees of Monday night’s meeting, including Dee’s father, said they had no knowledge of an idea proposed by community activist Craig Walker.

In one of several “community alert” emails sent to city officials, black community leaders, media members and others in the past week, Walker called for “a Day of Protest incorporating a day of absence from class.”

“If your kids can stay home great, if they can’t that’s fine too,” Walker wrote. “The goal is 100 students of color staying home on (11/21). If we exceed that goal that’s great.”
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