It was a sad day for football fans in Mill Creek.
On the other hand, few tears were shed on South Whidbey as word came that Archbishop Thomas Murphy’s football team has been ordered to forfeit their season. Their undefeated season.
For the Falcons, the decision means South Whidbey’s overall final season record stands at 8-2
(7-2 in the Cascade Conference), second only to Cedarcrest. The Red Wolves were also at 7-2 but took the conference championship because Cedarcrest beat South Whidbey on Oct. 19.
Falcon coach Mark Hodson said if the news had been known earlier it would have changed the entire playoff schedule.
“We would have played the team from Blaine instead of Lynden and Sultan would have been eligible for a crossover game,” Hodson said.
On Friday, the ATM football team learned it would have to forfeit its 11-0 season because one of the players was ineligible.
J.D. Melton’s physical exam had expired the third week of the season, making him ineligible to play. ATM was to have taken to the field Saturday in a state championship playoff against Mark Morris High School.
Instead, the Wildcats could only watch from the sidelines as Bellingham took their place Tuesday night in a game delayed by the league as a result of the ATM crisis.
The problem surfaced during a check of players’ medical and academic records on Nov. 8 in preparation for the basketball season. ATM officials said it was then that they discovered Melton’s physical had expired in early September.
ATM blamed the situation on a variety of factors: confusion resulting from the death of former coach Terry Ennis, a clerical oversight, personnel changes in the administration at the school, an athletic department facilities move and the home environment of the player.
Repeated attempts by The Record to contact ATM officials were unsuccessful.
ATM filed appeals with the conference, District 1 and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s athletic governing body.
After the school’s appeals were denied, ATM filed a grievance in King County Superior Court asking to have the WIAA judgement set aside.
ATM’s grievance called the ruling by the WIAA “unfair, inequitable, capricious, disproportionate to the severity of our non-compliance and if upheld would cause irreparable harm to the school.”
ATM interim president Thomas Lord said in court documents that there was no reason to believe that Melton was not physically able to participate in football throughout this season, and that he would have passed a physical had he taken one within the time span allowed.
“Prohibiting our football team from participating in tomorrow’s (state qualification) game will irreparably harm all 60-plus members of the varsity football team,” Lord said.
The court was unmoved by the claim, however. A judge denied the petition early Saturday and ATM’s season crumbled to dust.
Having athletes checked out by medical professionals before students are allowed to play is a routine part of high school sports. Those familiar with rules on student physicals said the regulations protect the players and the schools.
Hodson said high school athletes at South Whidbey are required to take and pass a physical exam every 13 months, even though WIAA rules allow two years between exams.
Hodson said staff checks the Falcon’s records before each game.
“Liability to the school if a student plays a contact sport without a physical is huge. The WIAA is very clear on that, and the penalties.”
Hodson said that when two Falcon players were found to be ineligible this year, they were benched until their status was resolved.
Hodson said that despite the alleged confusion ATM was suffering, the team has 13 paid coaches on staff.
“Everyone was notified but it fell through the cracks anyway,” Hodson said.
“The bottom line is, the rules are spelled out in black and white by the WIAA,” Hodson said. “I feel sorry for those who let this happen but even sorrier for the athletes involved.”