MPSSAA seems inflexible in ruling

On High Schools

March 26, 2006|By MILTON KENT

It was an innocent occurrence, so innocent, in fact, that Allegany boys basketball coach Tedd Eirich apparently copped to it at a postgame news conference after he did it. But the mistake will cost the Campers official recognition as runners-up in the state Class 1A tournament.

Pending the exchange of letters between the Allegany County school system and the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the Campers will forfeit their state semifinal win over Cambridge-South Dorchester, which earned them a berth in the championship game against Dunbar.

Allegany, which lost to the Poets in the final by 21, violated a state rule that prohibits high school athletes from competing against non-high school athletes in an official setting by letting the team play against a collection of former players and coaches.

Tim Scaletta, the county's supervisor of athletics, said the school will accept the penalty, which is a forfeit of all games in which the violation occurred. In this case, it was only the semifinal game.

"We've accepted the decision," Scaletta said. "We have no plans to file an appeal. We've admitted the violation, and whatever the decision, we'll live with it."

Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA executive director, said Friday that he had not heard officially from Allegany school officials, but said he was expecting a letter soon.

In the week after Allegany won the West region to earn a trip to College Park for the state semifinals, Eirich asked some Allegany graduates and a couple of coaches to scrimmage his team.

Eirich reportedly commented on it after the Campers' 71-61 win over Cambridge-South Dorchester, not knowing that what he had done was a rules violation.

"It was an unknowing violation," Scaletta said. "If they had something to hide, they wouldn't have said anything about it."

Indeed, school officials reported the violation to the MPSSAA on the Monday after the Saturday loss to Dunbar. Scaletta said he called Charles L. Pinkett Sr., the Dorchester County supervisor of athletics, to explain what had happened. According to Scaletta, Pinkett was sympathetic to his cause.

After reading the MPSSAA handbook, Scaletta said he initially was inclined to treat the violation as something that could be charged solely to Eirich, with the punishment being a letter of censure.

However, Sparks said that penalties are always borne by the school and by either the student or the coach in question.

"It's been that way forever," said Sparks, who noted that the Campers will not have to surrender their runner-up trophies.

To the outsider, Allegany's violation does appear picky, especially when you consider that the same kids could have, theoretically, played a pick-up game against the same opposition in a park or in someone's backyard, just as long as they weren't wearing Allegany's colors and Eirich wasn't running things on behalf of the school.

However, when Scaletta, himself a former basketball coach, puts on his administrator hat, he understands why what happened was a violation.

"When people send their kids to you, you're supposed to keep them safe," Scaletta said. "If one of those kids had gotten undercut or something like that, who would have been responsible? Nobody got hurt, thankfully, but you have to be careful."

This case, like many others before, only reinforces a view that the MPSSAA handbook, at least as far as punishment goes, should be modified.

Although it's true, as Sparks points out, that schools have an opportunity to challenge the ruling first to an MPSSAA appeals committee and then to the state superintendent of schools, the handbook should be flexible enough to recognize that all violations are not the same, that someone going one mile an hour over the speed limit shouldn't be treated the same way as someone who breaks into a house.

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