CAMDEN — In its 50-plus years of playing football, Preble Shawnee never had a team win more than seven games in a season — until this season.
The Arrows completed an 8-2 season with a 14-7 win over Monroe on Friday, Oct. 27.
But just hours after celebrating, Preble Shawnee was informed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association it would have to forfeit its Week 9 win over Northridge due to playing an ineligible player. This left the team with a 7-3 record, which is tied for the best record in school history.
Preble Shawnee self-reported the error to the state and Superintendent Dr. Matt Bishop said self-reporting was the “right thing to do.”
Preble Shawnee would not have qualified for the state playoffs even with an 8-2 record.
Last week, the district released a statement explaining the situation.
“On Friday, Oct. 20, Preble Shawnee High School allowed a student athlete to participate in three plays against Northridge High School in a Week 9 varsity football game. Unfortunately, the students’ eligibility was not officially restored by OHSAA guidelines until the following day.
“This was discovered on Thursday, Oct. 26 while discussing the eligibility of another student athlete. Once realized there was a potential violation of a bylaw, Preble Shawnee High School self-reported the incident to Dr. Deborah Moore, Senior Director of Compliance at OHSAA.
“Dr. Moore requested further documentation of the alleged incident. This was provided on Friday, Oct. 27. Later that evening, it was evident that the violation was going to lead to the forfeiture of the victory over a winless Northridge Polar Bear team during Week 9.
“We will continue to examine how this violation occurred and what steps can be put in place so this never repeats. At no time did the coaching staff or administration knowingly act dishonestly. This was simply an oversight, one that had a huge impact on the players, school, and community.
“This does not take away from an amazing season by a quality group of young men. Although the official record at OHSAA will have us at 7-3, we watched our team each Friday night earn the respect and admiration of not only our community but other football programs as well. On the field, our Preble Shawnee Arrows were 8-2.
“One final note, there are some that may question why our high school would self-report this seemingly inconsequential violation. Couldn’t we have just looked the other way considering a record setting season was on the line? Would other schools have self-reported? I cannot speak to the integrity of others, only Preble Shawnee. I can say, without hesitation, that Preble Shawnee High School, its Athletic Director, football coaches, and administration acted with integrity. They chose to be honest and hopefully set an example for our young people in the midst of adversity.”
The student in question transferred to the school prior to the season, but was ruled ineligible. He decided to remain a member of the team and was able to practice each week, according to Preble Shawnee’s Athletic Constitution.
Once the grading period was over, it was determined by Athletic Director Brad Wright that the student-athlete was eligible to play.
“Our quarter ended on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Our board policy states there is a mandated two-day window. So on Friday, grades were checked. He was eligible and in my mind he’s good to go,” Wright said. “We tried to reward this young man for getting his act together.”
The OHSAA bylaw which Preble Shawnee violated is 4-4-3.
The bylaw states, “The eligibility or ineligibility of a student continues until the start of the fifth school day of the next grading period, at which time the grades from the immediately preceding grading period become effective. For the purposes of this bylaw, “school day” includes faculty in-service days, calamity days and regular school attendance days but not holidays or school breaks.”
Exception 2 of the bylaw, which Wright felt applied to this situation, states, “A student coming off the “ineligible status” may become eligible 24 hours after the mandatory grade reporting date (a date established by board policy which cannot be the same day as the end of the grading period) established by the Board of Education or other similar governing body for that school’s district, provided said grade reporting date is applicable to all students in the that district.”
“Hence, Wednesday is the 18th, our window is closed on the 20th, which was game day. In essence, only five hours later I gave the kid permission to play,” Wright said. “If the game was played on Saturday we wouldn’t be here right now.”
“The thing that Brad is referencing is there is an exception allowing kids that have sat all quarter to get in a few days earlier if the board policy has things in place. Which we had it, but we didn’t have the 24-hour waiting period after the two days,” Bishop said.
Bishop said as soon as the district thought there was the potential a violation has occurred, they contacted the OHSAA.
“On Friday, we sent the information to Columbus. We were waiting to hear back. In the meantime, we didn’t have anything definitive that we could tell the coach. We didn’t have anything definitive we could tell the team so we thought ‘do we let them know this could be coming and have them be distracted for their game on Friday night’ which was a huge game. How fair would that be if something happened to where we were okay? So we decided not to mention anything, at least at that point. So, during the game an email came through and it still wasn’t official, but you could read what they were saying was ‘we need verification the kid did play in Week 9.’”
Bishop said there “wouldn’t be a situation where we wouldn’t self-report.”
“If playoffs were on the line it just would have been that more devastating,” he said. “It’s already devastating that it’s the best record in school history of 8-2, is now, in Columbus, in a book, 7-3. What we told the kids today, on the field they earned 8-2. They earned being the best Preble Shawnee Arrow team in our school history. Even though that victory can be taken away officially, I think if you ask any kid 20 years from now what was your record? It’s 8-2.”
Bishop said despite being questioned by some about self-reporting, “integrity means more than wins and losses even though it’s hard to hear. I’m proud of the athletic director. I’m proud of the principals. I’m proud of the team and the coaches. I would like to think that everybody would do that. But I’m sure there are examples where maybe other teams or programs have fallen short and Preble Shawnee’s not one of those teams.”
“Any bylaw violation that’s going to be a forfeiture is going to be a big deal to us,” he added. “We take pride in following the rules and doing the right thing.”
Wright said this is one of the most difficult situations — if not the most difficult — he’s had to deal with in his four years as athletic director.
“This one hurts, a lot. I thought I was doing the right thing in allowing a kid to play. He earned it. And I was 19 hours short. That’s hard. I take a lot of pride in my job. I love these kids. I’m struggling,” an emotional Wright said. “We weren’t trying to hide anything. We weren’t trying to be sneaky. We’re talking about three plays. There’s no grey area up there (OHSAA).”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH