Suspended members of Salmen girls basketball team can only watch and wait _lowres

Photo by Rod Walker -- Salmen girls basketball coach Panos Bountovinas, right, talks to (from left) Jayla Faciane, Ashanti Eden and Allie Batistse during halftime of Thursday's game against Helen Cox.

All 12 members of the Salmen High School girls basketball team were in the Helen Cox High gymnasium on Thursday night.

Only five played.

The other seven players, suspended from the team on Wednesday, watched from the stands. They will have to wait to see if they will be reinstated.

The seven girls have complained of what they consider inappropriate actions by the team’s first-year coach.

A parent of one of the suspended players was notified by Salmen Principal Brennan McCurley on Thursday afternoon that the school was investigating the claims by the girls and their parents and would notify them of a decision after the Thanksgiving holidays.

But that came after St. Tammany Parish schools Superintendent W. L. “Trey” Folse III said earlier Thursday that the investigation already has concluded.

“A thorough investigation by the St. Tammany Parish public school system has found that allegations brought up in regards to the Salmen High girls basketball coach are unfounded,” Folse’s statement said.

Myles Cooper, a parent of a suspended player, wasn’t pleased with the decision.

“If everything was unfounded, why is there a need for us to wait?” Cooper said. “There was no explanation. If the girls did nothing wrong and broke no rules, why are they suspended?”

The parents’ concerns dealt with head coach Panos Bountovinas, who is in his first season at the school.

Folse said a thorough investigation was conducted after four parents brought concerns to McCurley on Monday.

“The facts speak for themselves,” Bountovinas said prior to Thursday’s game.

Salmen had just five players — sophomore Arianna Cooks and freshmen Allie Batiste, Jaylen Huderson, Ashanti Eden and Jayla Faciane — suited up in the 48-43 loss.

It was the second straight game the team dressed out just five players.

The other seven — Kayla Sibley, Darnelle Webb, Myrezonte Cooper, Amara Bickham, Jazmine McKain, Antoinette Neal and Brianna Rudolph — missed their second game, this one due to the suspension.

They boycotted Tuesday’s game against Cabrini and were suspended from the team on Wednesday.

The players said they didn’t show up for Tuesday’s game because their concerns about Bountovinas were not being heard by school leaders.

Prior to taking over at Salmen this season, Bountovinas coached girls’ basketball at Mount Carmel Academy for two seasons. He guided the team to the Class 5A state championship in the 2013-14 season but resigned shortly before the start of the 2014-15 season.

Concerns about why he resigned were one of three issues raised in an email parents sent to Folse on Monday. The New Orleans Advocate obtained a copy of the email on Thursday.

The other two items addressed concerns about Bountovinas’ presence in the girls’ locker room and about him not being concerned about the players’ grades.

Sibley, one of the suspended players, said she wasn’t comfortable with the way Bountovinas frequently touched her, calling him “very feely.”

She also said that twice during the season, a female assistant coach had to ask Bountovinas to leave the locker room while the girls were dressing.

“This in itself is unacceptable in the smallest form,” the email from the concerned parents said. “This also was downplayed by our principal as he promised to investigate and give our coach due process.”

But a parent of one of the five players who played in Thursday night’s game said he has no issues with Bountovinas.

“We are here to support our daughters,” said the parent, who didn’t want to be named. “He has our full support and our trust. My daughter has nothing but praise for Coach B.”

Bountovinas was well-regarded at Mount Carmel, according to one parent whose daughter he coached there. She said there were no problems with him at that school.

“He was really wonderful; the girls loved him,’’ she said.

As a basketball coach, his knowledge of the game was “a little lax,’’ she said, crediting the state championship the team won under him to the quality of the players. But she praised his interaction with the team and said he worked well with parents.

The St. Tammany school system said in its statement that it fully vets all potential employees, which includes fingerprinting and criminal background checks.

“The safety of our students is our top priority, and we take every measure to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for all students,” the statement said.

Bountovinas declined comment about the issue after the game Thursday night but talked about his team’s play.

“I am extremely proud of the five girls,” he said. “They gave 150 percent.”