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June 3, 2013

Class A State baseball tournament still on hold a month later

Ada —      The Oklahoma Supreme Court finally ruled in the case between Wright City and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association on Friday, but it appears we still aren’t much closer to resuming a Class A State baseball tournament that has been suspended nearly a month.

     This is getting beyond silly.

     The court ruled in the majority opinion that the OSSAA didn’t follow due process when throwing Wright City out of the state tournament for playing too many games. Wright City should have been allowed to state its case to the OSSAA Board of Directors before any type of appeal to any court was made. But Wright City jumped the gun by filing an injunction before pleading its case to the board of directors.

     In its decision, the Supreme Court said, "All the players in this controversy have erred." The forfeiture order should not have gone into effect with Wright City's request for reconsideration pending and the school district should not have gone to court before appealing to OSSAA's board of directors, the court said.

     In a separate opinion, Justice Yvonne Kauger of Colony wrote that Wright City should have been allowed to participate in the tournament and the OSSAA's board could address the alleged rule violation later.

     "The delay harms all of the student athletes, not just the players of Wright City," Kauger said. "Any punishment or penalty is applicable to the school — not to the students. Here, the immediate answer is — Play Ball!"

     “We're kind of still in the evaluation process of the ruling,” OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley told The Oklahoman. “We feel that it's a good policy to let staff use discretion when there's a violation of the rules rather than going to the board initially.”

     According to Roff athletic director Mike Stewart, Wright City officials will meet with OSSAA staff members on Monday and if the Lumber Jax don’t get their way at that consultation, the board of directors will host a hearing at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

     From this point of view, Monday’s meeting will be a waste of time. The OSSAA isn’t going to back down. It’s highly unlikely the board of directors will overturn the OSSAA’s initial decision to make Wright City forfeit its first-round game against Sterling during the Tuesday hearing.

     But if Wright City is allowed in the tournament on Tuesday, the Lumber Jax and Sterling would play their month-old first-round matchup somewhere on Thursday. The teams would take Friday off before playing both the semifinal contests — Roff versus the Sterling-Wright City winner and Rattan versus Cashion — on Saturday.

     Lumber Jax head coach Kyle Butler has admitted guilt. But he has kept up the fight because he feels like his players shouldn’t be punished for his mistake. The Lumber Jax played in two extra games, playing Idabel's junior varsity after district play and Valliant's varsity after regional play.

     If Tuesday’s decision by the OSSAA doesn’t go Wright City’s way, then the Lumber Jax could file another injunction that could set off a series of appeals, and this case could very well end up back in the lap of the state Supreme Court. And Roff, Rattan, Cashion and Sterling would have to continue this crazy waiting game.

     “We’re just ready to play. It’s gotten pretty old,” Stewart said.

     It’s gotten the oldest for a Rattan senior who reportedly turned in his suit on Friday. He is leaving for the Army today.

     “Rattan is losing one of their best players. Their five-hole hitter has to leave Sunday (today) for the Army,” Stewart said.

     The OSSAA initially ruled that Roff and the other schools still involved couldn’t play in any summer league games until the Class A State Tournament was finished. But Roff was allowed to play two games last week.

     The Tigers had played two fewer games than allowed under OSSAA guidelines this spring, so Roff was allowed to count the two summer games against its spring schedule. Now, all schools involved will be allowed to resume their summer league schedules beginning Monday without penalty.

     “The OSSAA said after June 1, summer league can be opened up and everybody can play like normal,” Stewart said.

     If there is a silver lining for Roff, it’s the fact that the more games its young team plays while the state tournament is suspended, the better and more prepared the Tigers will be when they finally get to take the field in their semifinal contest.

     “We’ll get a little more playing in. With our young kids, the more practice we get and the longer they get to play, the better they’re going to get,” Stewart said, almost echoing the comments from Roff head coach Ead Simon about a week ago. “Those kids are just going to keep getting better.”

     Meanwhile, Sheakley has told the Oklahoman he feels good about the way the OSSAA handled its business right from the start.

     “It's in the board's hands at this point,” Sheakley said. “The staff has made their recommendations. We feel very comfortable with the job we've done. We've got rules that have been voted on by the membership, and we've got a game limitation. It's not fair to the other schools for Wright City to have played more games.”

     This situation has to be resolved soon. We’re way too far into extra innings already.

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