Joppatowne 'devastated' by forfeitures
Joppatowne got bad news yesterday about its appeal concerning an ineligible player. The appeal was denied by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which means that unless the school decides to appeal directly to the Maryland Superintendent of Schools the forfeiture of 10 games last season and three this season will stand.
At Joppatowne, coach Bill Waibel and his staff have been working to hold together a team the coach described as "devastated" by the situation, which is this: A parent presented the school with a falsified lease to prove residency. Now, the entire team has to pay the price for that deception.
It means last year's 11-2 record, which included a 1A South regional championship and Class 1A state semifinal appearance, is wiped out. It also means this year's team, which had started 5-0 before having to forfeit its first three wins, no longer has the possibility of the rarely achieved undefeated record.
"Anyone would certainly condemn the parent's action," said MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks. "It's inexcusable. But people sometimes do things without thinking about the consequences. It's not the first time something like this has happened in the state and probably not the last.
"Hopefully, it can become a learning experience, an example of what not to do, for the kids who were harmed. Fortunately, it looks like Joppatowne will still make the playoffs."
Both state and county officials voiced concern that residency documentation will become much more difficult to trace in the current economy, where jobs are being lost and families forced to relocate more often.
But none of that means much to the Joppatowne Mariners, who are suffering the consequences.
"They were devastated when we first heard of the problem and the forfeits," said Waibel. "I really wasn't sure where it would go from there, in terms of their demeanor. But I shouldn't be surprised [that they've kept their focus and kept winning]. They're really a special group of kids."
Waibel said there are about 22 players on his squad from last season, and while the whole team is upset at having that season wiped off the books, what has gotten to them most is having the first three wins of this season turned into losses through forfeit.
"It has been costly in terms of making the playoffs," Waibel said. "They know our chances of hosting playoff games has been lessened. Now, if we were 9-0, we'd have the highest point total in the state and be looking at a postseason in which we'd play at home until the championship game at M&T Bank Stadium if we continue to win. There was a pretty good chance we'd have been undefeated, which is a very rare and difficult thing to do.
"Initially they were crushed. It had been just so much hard work and it all seemed for nothing. And as a coaching staff we wear many hats. In some cases we're acting as role models. In some, in a few cases we do surrogate parenting. We take it a little harder. We're devastated for our players and we're concerned about the perception people have of our program. I'm concerned about the perception people have of my integrity and how they may now question it."
But Waibel, his coaching staff and his players have rallied to the challenge. The Mariners, Waibel believes, are actually playing better than they did before the problem came to light.
"Our coaches have rededicated themselves and our kids have rallied together," he said. "Yes, we're possibly better than before, but it is hard to measure and hard to say exactly why."
After a 30-6 victory over Rising Sun on Thursday, the Mariners are 6-3. They have one game left with 4A opponent C. Milton Wright. If they win it, they have a chance to be the 1A South No. 2 seed. If they lose, depending on what other teams do tonight, they could squeak in as the last seed at No. 4 or be out completely.
"We do control our destiny," said Waibel. "That's a good thing."
Asked if any other good things could come from the current situation and reminded that Sparks had suggested it could be a valued learning experience about truth or consequences, Waibel had to think for a few minutes.
"This is what I told our kids," he said. "Something very bad has happened beyond their control and sometime in the future something else will happen at an inconvenient time -- a loved one may die or the loss of a job, for example. In the overall picture, this is not that big a deal. But it is a good example of how you are going to deal with the situation 10, 20, 30 or 50 years from now. It will define the person you are.
"But regardless, we teach those things on a daily basis. We could have done without this lesson."
-- Sandra McKee