High school activities group issues 67 sanctions since ’03-04Only one action went beyond probation. The most frequently violated rule is playing ineligible athletes.
By: Justin Rust, The Daily Republic
In his first three years as the Mitchell High School activities director, Geoff Gross never had to deal with any violations of South Dakota High School Activities Association rules.
“When other schools make mistakes, I see the penalties, and you heed that,” Gross said.
That changed during the association’s April 19-20 meeting.
Mitchell boys’ basketball coach Gary Munsen had been seen coaching during a Dakota Schoolers event April 16-17. It was a violation of SDHSAA’s out-of-season coaching policy.
The Mitchell boys’ basketball program was forced to forfeit its four team contacts as allowed by the out-of-season rule; was placed on probation for one year; received a letter of reprimand requesting detailed steps be taken to ensure such oversights do not happen in the future; and was assessed a $200 fine.
If the program is caught for another violation during the probationary period, it could be suspended from postseason play.
In the 10 years Wayne Carney has been the executive director of the SDHSAA, he said this was the first violation for Mitchell High School. It only took one violation for Gross to monitor the programs even closer than he was before.
“It does nothing but heighten your senses in all activities, and it should,” he said. “It will make you look at it more and it makes the coaches more aware, because the next step is suspension and forfeiture.”
Munsen declined to be interviewed for this story, and he has never commented publicly on the disciplinary action.
Mitchell is far from the only school to get caught violating SDHSAA rules. In the past eight years, there have been 67 violations among the 180 member schools. The violations have ranged from out-of-season coaching to ineligible athletes and problems stemming from open enrollment.
All but one of the schools has received probation, and nothing more severe. The only school that suffered a penalty beyond probation was Pine Ridge High School, which was suspended from the postseason in 2008-09.
It was not just one violation that earned Pine Ridge the penalty, but many.
“They had numerous violations that led up to that,” said Carney, who declined to elaborate. The Daily Republic was not able to reach anyone at Pine Ridge for an interview.
The violations have not stopped for Pine Ridge since then. During the SDHSAA meeting April 20-21, 2010, the board approved a penalty for Pine Ridge for allowing an ineligible athlete to compete in cross country during the 2009-10 school year.
Last year, 10 athletic programs were sanctioned by the SDHSAA, and an official was also reprimanded.
In the Mitchell region, Mount Vernon, Marty Indian School and Gregory were all put on probation this past school year, and each violation was for playing an ineligible athlete.
In the 2009-10 school year, Plankinton and Avon were put on a year-long probation because each one played an ineligible athlete, and in 2008-09, Colome was put on a year-long probation for playing an ineligible athlete.
During the 2009-10 school year, the SDHSAA board meeting minutes showed there were eight violations, and in 2008-09, there were 10.
“Only 67 violations in the last eight years, that’s not very many,” Carney said. “There may be some years that we don’t have any for two or three meetings in a row.”
The SDHSAA’s meeting minutes for the last three years show that in the last two school years, the SDHSAA board has had to deal with at least one violation at every meeting. The SDHSAA has six regular meetings every year, plus one annual meeting in April.
Carney said the most common violation is playing an ineligible athlete. That infraction caused 19 of the 29 violations in the last three school years.
According to Carney, almost all of the infractions are self-reported.
“We don’t go out and look for things,” he said. “We think the member schools do a great job of policing themselves.”
Pine Ridge is not the only school to deal with multiple violations. During the meeting on Jan. 12, St. Francis Indian School was put on probation after having ineligible athletes participate in both golf and football. Marty Indian School had more than one ineligible athlete participate in volleyball and was put on probation during the Nov. 3, 2010, meeting. On Jan. 14, 2009, Summit was put on probation after having more than one ineligible athlete participate in volleyball.
Carney said the SDHSAA staff makes recommendations on a case-by-case basis to the SDHSAA board on what the penalty should be, but it’s the board that makes the final decision.
“For any violation that doesn’t have a written penalty, the board can determine what the penalty can be,” he said.
Carney said the harshest penalties are reserved for schools that “blatantly” break the rules, or had three or four violations in a “relatively short time.”
White River has become a staple at the Class B boys’ basketball tournament.
The Tigers have earned a trip to the state tournament every year since the 2005-06 season and have finished no lower than fourth during any of their appearances. For the last four years, White River played in the championship game and won the titles in the 2009-10 and 2007-08 seasons.
This past season, Corsica/Stickney defeated White River 54-47 in the championship game
White River has a shot to make it to the state tournament for the sixth straight year with its top scorer, junior-to-be Wyatt Krogman, returning.
Maybe the only thing that could hold the White River boys’ basketball program back from another state tournament appearance is another violation of SDHSAA rules. Each of the past two seasons, the team has been caught for violations, landing the Tigers on what White River Activities Director Eldon Marshall called “double probation.”
Two years ago, the first violation happened when a player suited up for a junior varsity basketball game. The player was a fifth-year senior and had already used up his eight semesters of eligibility, but that was not put in his files, according to Marshall.
“The transcript wasn’t inputted on the computer exactly when he started school,” said Marshall, who is also on the SDHSAA Board of Directors. “He was out of school for a year, so it looked like he was on his seventh and eighth semester when he was on his ninth and 10th semester.”
Marshall said he self-reported the violation as soon as he found out about it, and the SDHSAA board gave White River a year-long probation for its infraction.
This past season’s violation happened at the Hanson Classic. White River’s assistant coach went to the event to tape a Sully Buttes game, an opponent the Tigers were scheduled to play later in the season. But White River did not get Sully Buttes’ permission to tape the game, thus violating an SDHSAA rule.
“The coach went there thinking it was like a state tournament game and you are free to videotape the game,” Marshall said. “He was just trying to go above and beyond and be a good assistant coach. He just made a little mistake and paid the consequences.”
The second of the two violations came during White River’s initial year-long probation, but instead of suspending the Tigers from the postseason, the SDHSAA board gave them another year-long probation.
Carney said the SDHSAA staff recommended against postseason suspension.
“In our conversations, we didn’t feel it was the proper penalty,” he said, declining to comment on the specific reasons for the opinion. “That was just our discussion. Our discussion stays in the office.”
Even though Marshall said both violations were “simple mistakes,” he knows the school can no longer afford any slip-ups.
“We’ve just got to make sure that everyone is on their toes and that everyone is accounted for, because if we don’t, the kids will suffer the consequences,” he said. “We do not want that to happen, and it’s something that shouldn’t happen.
“We aren’t out to cheat anyone, just like any other school isn’t out to cheat anyone that makes mistakes. At the same time, we should know and we take responsibility for it.”
The 1998-99 school year was the beginning of open enrollment in South Dakota, which allows students to go to a school of their choosing regardless of the school district they reside in.
Carney, who served as the activities director at Washington High School in Sioux Falls from 1994 to 2001 and held the same position at Hamlin High School from 1977 to 1994, feels open enrollment has caused some problems.
“It makes it more difficult, because if a young person transfers to your school, you don’t know how many times they have transferred,” he said. “You have to track down if that person is eligible or not, and it’s easy for one of them to get through the cracks.”
When The Daily Republic interviewed Carney recently, he gave an example of a situation he was dealing with at the time.
“A member school called, and a student went to one school as a freshman, two different schools in their sophomore year, and as a junior, they went to their fourth school. This year, that person is on their fifth school in four years.
“Before open enrollment, you had to worry about the academics and the other rules in place, and open enrollment has complicated it even more.”
Carney said the smaller the school, the easier it is to keep track of open enrollment.
But that is not always the case, especially at Warner High School, which is a Class B school. The town of Warner has a population of 445 but is only a 10-minute drive away from the much bigger city of Aberdeen. Since the small school is so close to Aberdeen, it gets many open enrollment students, according to Warner High School Activities Director Angie Vetter.
“We have a ton of open enrolled kids,” she said.
Warner High School has an average daily membership for grades 9-11 of about 60, and Vetter, who has been the school’s AD for the past year, said 90 percent of open enrolled students come from Aberdeen.
The open enrollment policy landed Warner in hot water when an ineligible athlete participated in girls’ track and field in the 2009-10 school year and in cross country during the 2010-11 school year.
During the SDSHAA’s meeting March 2, Warner was put on a year-long probation.
According to Vetter, the athlete was someone who transferred from Aberdeen Central and lived in Aberdeen while she attended Warner.
The athlete was deemed ineligible because she never filled out an open enrollment form.
“Every time a student comes in and they don’t live in the district, they need to fill it out, and it just didn’t get done,” Vetter said. “It’s just a common mistake, so we just have to make sure every time someone open enrolls, they have to fill out one of those forms.”
The student is no longer at Warner High School after she transferred to another school in Aberdeen during the Christmas break. That’s when the violation came up.
“I found out about it after she left, and her new school called and asked me if we filled it out,” Vetter said. “I couldn’t find it, and I called the SDHSAA and they didn’t have one on file.”
Vetter was not the AD at the time when the student enrolled at Warner. Chuck Welke was the “on and off” AD then.
“It was something he thought he did, but didn’t do,” Vetter said. “I was his secretary and it was just something we all overlooked.”
Gregory, a Class A school, also was handed a year-long probation during the March meeting for playing an ineligible athlete in boys’ basketball and had to forfeit four games.
“The violation is that we had a player that moved from Mitchell, and he was ineligible to play,” said Gregory Activities Director Sherrie Kafka.
Kafka said the athlete, Delane Wonderman, enrolled at Gregory High School at Christmas break and played in four games. Wonderman was academically ineligible to play.
Kafka, who just finished her first year as the AD at Gregory, said she did not know at the time that Wonderman was ineligible until she got his transcript from Mitchell.
“That one was a complicated one to read, because he was in the juvenile system for a year,” she said. “I honestly don’t think he knew, because he was bounced around from school to school.”
Kafka said Wonderman is no longer enrolled at Gregory. He left in March and she does not know where he went.
Plankinton dealt with a transfer issue in 2009 when the SDSHAA gave the school a year-long probation during its meeting on Nov. 4, 2009. Plankinton had an ineligible athlete participate in volleyball.
“We had a student come in from another school district, and the grade that her parent said she was in was wrong,” said Plankinton Activities Director Todd Karst. “Upon looking at the transcript, we found out that she was ineligible to play. We found out about the infraction and called the violation in ourselves.”
Karst said the athlete was on the volleyball team, but didn’t play.
“It was a miscommunication between the guidance counselor and myself,” said Karst, who recently finished his sixth year as the AD at Plankinton. “We haven’t had a lot of transfer students, but now, before anyone steps foot on the floor, we have the transcript.
“You live and you learn.”
When an Avon High School golfer participated in a non-SDHSAA tournament with his uncle, he was just doing it for fun.
After the tournament was over, that golfer had violated an SDHSAA rule.
The tournament took place during the SDHSAA golf season, and the golfer’s uncle paid the tournament fee. The tandem ended up finishing in the money, but the golfer did not accept any of it. He still violated an SDHSAA rule by participating in a non-school sanctioned event during the golf season.
“It was just at a local golf course that had some type of scramble,” said Avon Activities Director Tom Culver, who has held the position since 2008. “He and his uncle didn’t think about it, so as soon as we found out, we reported it.”
The violation happened during the 2010 golf season, and Avon was put on a year-long probation during the SDHSAA’s meeting in June 2010.
Culver said he did not know the golfer was participating in the event along with the school’s golf coach.
“A coach from another team told us, and we reported it as soon as he told us,” he said. “Good, bad or indifferent, we figured we better call and report it. (The SDHSAA) was good about it, and it was nothing too serious.”
This past wrestling season, Tri-Valley’s wrestling coach, Mike Gibson, was in his first year leading the program. Gibson brought in an out-of-state school, which Tri-Valley Activities Director Brad McDonald decline to identify, to practice with his team during the season. That was a violation of SDHSAA rules.
“You cannot practice against another school during the season,” McDonald said. “It was an Iowa school, and there they can do that in-season, and their coach and our coach are friends. That’s why it happened.”
Once McDonald found out about the violation, he reported it to the SDHSAA. During the SDHSAA meeting Jan. 12, Tri-Valley was put on a year-long probation.
“Basically, we had a first-year coach that misunderstood the rule,” said McDonald, who has been the AD at Tri-Valley for six years. “He is very good, knows the rules and has a good wrestling background. It was just one of those things that he misinterpreted what the rule was.”
In most cases, Carney said he does not believe schools purposely break the rules, and most violations are caused because of high turnover with the activities director position at some schools.
“I don’t think schools knowingly break the rules; when you ask them, 99 percent of them are going to say that they didn’t,” he said. “Do I feel like they are stretching them sometimes? Sure. Are there times they have disregarded the rules? Maybe.
“There are several things that can cause a violation to go unnoticed, and the lack of stability with the activities director or just a lack of oversight by the AD is the number one thing.”
When asked if he thought Munsen knew of his violation when it happened, Carney said The Daily Republic would have to ask Munsen that question.
Gross said he is hoping it was just an innocent mistake that Munsen made, but “it’s a mistake that we are never going to make again, I can tell you that.”