Share This Page

Gorman: A second chance for Imani Christian

Harvey Smith says he was blindsided by Imani Christian Academy's renegade reputation, especially after he became the school's athletic director and football coach.

"It was something I was unaware of when I took the job," he said. "It became evident to me right away that it was something I was up against."

Smith is no stranger to such complaints, considering he heard them at Gateway while serving on the football staff of his brother, Terry.

The image that preceded Imani Christian's WPIAL membership was only enhanced when the small, East Hills school was suspended for failing to comply with PIAA rules.

There were whispers around Western Pennsylvania that Imani Christian had designs on developing into a football and basketball destination, fears throughout the City League that its top talent was being recruited by Imani.

"The perception coming in originally was of concern," WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said. "Any time a nonpublic school becomes members, especially when it comes to basketball, there's concern over competitive balance."

Faster than you can say Lincoln Park, the charter school dominating WPIAL Class A basketball, Imani Christian came to be viewed as the next school playing by its own rules.

Then the WPIAL suspended Imani Christian, forcing the school to take a long look at its procedures.

Imani Christian restructured its administration, making Enos Scott interim headmaster, hiring former Penn Hills vice principal Ron Graham to run the school and giving Smith assistance in collecting transcripts of transfers and filling out forms for eligibility. It also parted ways with basketball coach Khayree Wilson.

Smith made an impassioned plea Thursday before the WPIAL Board of Control to allow Imani to play WPIAL football and basketball schedules.

"Our athletic department will fail, it will cease to exist. It's that significant," he said. "If we don't have a schedule, we're done."

Imani Christian had no complaints that its WPIAL reinstatement came with conditions. All the school wants is what it offers the predominantly black, underprivileged students Smith calls "castoffs."

A second chance.

"When the kids picked up the paper and saw we were back in, you would have thought it was Christmas," Smith said. "On the flip side, when the schedule was taken away, the morale was down. It was like a funeral around here. These kids always felt a detachment from society. They want to look forward to something."

Smith knows firsthand. He is the father of six students at Imani Christian, which counts ministry and a Black Male Initiative program as part of its curriculum. His son, Isaiah, is an eighth-grader who was bounced from Woodland Hills and Gateway because of behavioral issues.

"Imani was the final straw for him," Smith said. "I was just a desperate dad."

Smith said Isaiah has become an honors student, improving his grade-point average from 1.2 to where "if he gets a B, he's furious."

Smith calls Imani Christian, whose students wear uniforms, "the toughest school in the City of Pittsburgh." He stresses that character in the classroom comes before ability in the athletic arena, that at-risk students must show they can be functional and productive members of society.

The Saints will go from practicing on an asphalt lot to playing home games at Gateway, but only if they are following the rules.

"I would be lying if I said I didn't want to field competitive teams, but what I've said from Day 1 is it's about ministry, it's about character," Smith said. "If you don't show character, you won't be playing on Friday nights."

The WPIAL sent the same message to Imani Christian and its renegade reputation, reminding it to practice what it preaches.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.