Chugiak's season ends after dramatic day of meetings
The Alaska School Activities Association board of directors voted Monday to uphold an earlier decision by executive director Gary Matthews to make Chugiak’s football team forfeit three victories this season — with a catch.
The board said that even though the original ruling that Chugiak must forfeit games in which an ineligible player was used should stand, ultimately it’s up to Region IV (which encompasses the Anchorage School District) to decide which teams it sends to the state playoffs.
“Ultimately it is a Region IV decision,” said board president Billy Strickland of Bethel.
After Strickland announced the board’s decision, players and parents who had gathered outside the small meeting room at the Anchorage Hilton exchanged looks of confusion.
“Basically, they just traded responsibility back to the school district,” said Chugiak senior captain Kody Trombley, who spoke in front of the board to ask for leniency on the forfeitures.
Several hours after the ruling, ASD superintendent Carol Comeau personally informed Trombley and his fellow Chugiak senior captains Travis Craig, Justin Schneider and Wayde Snell that she could not go against Region IV bylaws, which state that the teams with the best conference record should advance to the playoffs.
"It's just a very sad situation," Comeau said.
The unusual move by the ASAA board to rule on the Chugiak appeal and then pass the final decision back to her didn't sit well with Comeau.
"I find that very disingenuous," Comeau said.
Despite the fact that ASAA seemingly left the door open for her to allow Chugiak to advance to the playoffs (which start this weekend), the superintendent said she had no choice in the matter. The bylaws are clear, she said, and to allow Chugiak to advance would come at the expense of another Region IV team — in this case, the fourth-place West Anchorage Eagles.
"We could not displace a team with more wins on their record," Comeau said.
On Sept. 21, Chugiak learned that a player on the team, kicker Craig Lowe, was not eligible to play in the district because he was homeschooled through the Galena-based IDEA home school program. Matthews ruled the Mustangs (who were then 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the Cook Inlet Conference) should forfeit any games in which Lowe played. Since he played in every game up until that point, Chugiak's three wins were wiped off the board.
Both Chugiak principal Sam Spinella and the Anchorage School District chalked the situation up to an “administrative mistake,” saying that Lowe’s paperwork wasn’t handled properly during pre-season checks.
Spinella appealed the ASAA decision on behalf of the football team, and the school district sent letters of support to the ASAA board asking that Chugiak's forfeitures be overturned. The team’s booster club also submitted a petition, which called on the board to reverse Matthews’ decision on the grounds that Lowe’s eligibility status should have been caught by the Chugiak activities department before the season. Because an adult administrator erred, Chugiak supporters said that players on the team — including 19 seniors — shouldn’t be punished.
“It doesn’t seem right to penalize these guys for something they had no involvement in,” booster club president Drema Fitzhugh told the board.
Fitzhugh, Spinella, Trombley and Mustangs head coach Duncan Shackelford all testified before the board Monday. Trombley argued that to punish the team for one person’s mistake wasn’t fair, and that ASAA had the power to reverse the decision.
“Our team believes we need to stand up for what we know is right,” he told the board.
After ASAA denied Chugiak’s appeal, Comeau said her hands were tied by the bylaws. She said telling the players that their season was officially over was gut-wrenching.
"My heart tells me I have to make a different decision, but I can't," she said.
Based on the board's decision, Chugiak's official record is 2-6 overall and 2-5 in the Cook Inlet Conference. Had the board found in favor of Chugiak, the Mustangs' record would be 5-3 overall and 4-3 in the CIC and they'd be booking tickets to Juneau for a first-round match-up with the Crimson Bears.
Travis Craig said he didn't fault Comeau for her decision not to go against the Region IV bylaws. Instead, he faulted the ASAA board for forcing the superintendent to make the final call.
"Instead of telling us there, front and center, that this is how it's going to work, we're sorry this happened, they threw it back at Carol Comeau to tell us," Craig said. "I don't think that was right that they did that to her.
"They threw her under the bus," he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org