MIDVALE — Lone Peak football will enter the 2019 playoffs a 1-9 team after losing an appeal hearing Thursday morning.
The 3-0 decision on Thursday comes just a day after the panel made up of the Utah High School Activities Association’s executive committee voted 5-0 to impose the penalty outlined in the association’s bylaws, which is forfeiture of any contest in which an ineligible player participates.
Lone Peak principal Scott Sumner said he became aware of the issue when a school counselor mentioned something about the student’s history to the athletic director. He discovered the student had attended a high school outside of Utah, and while he listed those high schools, he also checked a box saying he had not attended any other high school.
Sumner said the boy misunderstood the question, believing it meant high schools in Utah. Answering that question negatively made the student automatically eligible, and because his paperwork wasn’t checked, the mistake wasn’t discovered until last week.
The principal immediately reported the issue to the Region Board of Managers, which is a group made up of other principals in the region. That body chose to impose alternative punishments, in part, because they felt any school could make the mistake and it wasn’t an attempt to skirt the rules or lie to administrators.
The panel of the executive committee voted unanimously to impose the penalty outlined in the handbook for playing an ineligible athlete, and said the rules left them no choice. Other schools, including the Desert Hills soccer team, have been punished in this same way in the past two months.
In fact, Sumner confirmed that his volleyball team had to forfeit a junior varsity match last year because it played an ineligible player.
Dale Whitlock, a member of Juab County’s school board, asked how many transfers the team had this year. Sumner said it wasn’t more than five or six, and then the panel asked why those students couldn’t be checked by administrators, regardless of what information they gave when registering.
“I have already gone through and created different processes,” Sumner said. They chose to appeal because they felt like the punishment was excessive, and it resulted in a ripple effect in the program and outside. The young man, according to Sumner, is distraught and considering withdrawing from school, and other schools will not only have their RPI impacted by the forfeitures, but it will mean a tougher first-round 6A playoff game for a higher-seeded team.
“The system is dependent on humans, and look at the crisis it’s creating,” Sumner said. “This is not a Lone Peak problem, it’s a structure problem. We’re appealing to say, this is what happened.”
UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff, who doesn’t have a vote in either hearing, pointed out that the computer program used, “Register My Athlete,” is meant to help schools, not be the final say on eligibility.
“It can be human error, but it has to be a human fix,” Cuff said. “I don’t know how we ever take the human element out of it.”
North Summit Superintendent Jerre Holmes said he had great sympathy for the school but said not enforcing the rules as written would create “a real issue with precedent.”
“It doesn’t sound like there was mal intent, but precedent overrides human error, and that’s the part that concerns me,” he said.
At one point Sumner suggested the panel could choose to punish him.
“Suspend me for a Friday night,” he said. “As principal, I didn’t do my due diligence to have the right systems in place. Now because I messed up, my team is going to be held (responsible).”
Unfortunately, that is not an option under the current rules, which are created and voted on by principals of member schools. Thursday’s ruling means Lone Peak is now 1-9, and the team’s RPI score will be calculated using forfeits. The RPI rankings for the season will be revealed Saturday morning at 9.