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Prep football: East awaits ruling on eligibility

Published October 17, 2012 11:57 pm

Prep football • Leopards holding breath as UHSAA works on eligibility ruling.
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Wednesday evening brought no assurances that the East football team would be able to participate in the postseason.

The Utah High School Activities Association had reached a "tentative decision" by Wednesday afternoon on how the Leopards will be punished for ineligible players on their roster that were discovered last week.

But as of late that night, the UHSAA had not told anyone what that decision was as it worked on an official written version. Association legal counsel Mark Van Wagoner expected the announcement would come Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the Leopards were held in limbo, enduring a 51-34 loss to Logan on the road and wondering if it would be the end of their season.

East principal Paul Sagers said he saw a team that had been exhausted by the week's events.

"These are just kids who feel like they don't have anybody in their corner," Sagers said. "I think everybody's mentally wiped."

East, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A, has been on the defensive since last week, when it first came to light that the team had an ineligible player. After getting handed a fine and a suspension for coach Brandon Matich, the school learned of three more players who were ineligible, one of whom was starting right tackle Tennessee Suesue.

The school presented its case Tuesday to the Region 6 principals, taking care to outline the subtleties of each transfer. The mistakes, they said, were clerical mistakes caused by some confusion about new state rules. The region handed down serious sanctions, including probation, a $1,500 fine and another two-game suspension for Matich, but no forfeits.

The UHSAA convened a special subset of its executive committee Wednesday morning to hear the case, which East reiterated.

The dilemma for the UHSAA is an ineligible player case that arose out of Region 8. Timpview was forced to vacate its region wins and title from the 2011 season after it reported a player living in Provo boundaries had never filed paperwork for eligibility. The player now is eligible, but the state has the charge to either reconcile the differing region rulings or explain why they're different.

"I would hope that they have a good reason for taking as long as they did," Sagers said. "I know a lot of folks in that room, and they're good people. They're probably taking time to have a good rationale."

The school's presentation included a case-by-case explanation of the confusion by athletic director Kathy Butler, who was in charge of determining eligibility. Butler concluded her testimony by saying she was going to resign, ending a 35-year career during which she was named athletic director of the year.

Matich showed great emotion as he talked about each player, breaking down near the end of his statement. Region 6 chair John Haning, the principal at Woods Cross, defended his region's decision.

"If a coach, administrator or athletic director makes a mistake, that's who should be punished," Haning said. "Our region will sway in the direction of supporting kids."

The closed deliberations on the cases for East and Timpview lasted several hours to roughly 3 p.m., before the committee said it had reached the tentative ruling.

Timpview also reported an additional ineligible player on the current roster after an internal audit, saying that the player in question had incorrectly filled out his paperwork. The athlete had played limited minutes in two preseason games and one region game. Region 8 declared the player ineligible for the rest of the year, fined Timpview and set aside the possibility of probation for future violations.

kgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon