When students arrived at Arlington High School Thursday, homeroom teachers read them a letter describing the decision to forfeit victories in eight sports because the school had fielded ineligible players last year.
The school said the forfeits were not the students’ fault, but that was little solace.
“We’re a bit ashamed of the school itself, and it reflects on us like we did something wrong,” said Dan Colombo, a junior on the varsity football team.
Students, parents, and school officials reacted with frustration and anger Thursday to the unusual and apparently unprecedented forfeits. School officials say the failure of the athletics department to confirm the eligibility of the students was discovered only this fall after the district’s athletic director was placed on leave for an apparently unrelated matter.
“We’ve never heard of this number of teams in one fell swoop,” said Paul Wetzel, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic
Athletic Association. “It seems like it’s a system error at the school, so it led to ineligible players being on multiple teams. That is really unusual.”
Arlington Public Schools announced Wednesday that ineligible players participated on 12 different teams during the 2011-2012 school year, and that, as a result, eight teams had to forfeit games. Four teams, including the fall 2011 varsity and junior varsity boys soccer teams, the spring 2012 boys varsity tennis team, and the spring girls junior varsity softball team, had to forfeit all of their wins for their season.
The announcement comes more than three months after the school district’s athletic director, Ted Dever, was placed on paid administrative leave amid an ongoing criminal inquiry, the details of which have not been made public. This week Dever, through his attorney Rick Grundy, criticized the school district’s move to dismiss him for unspecified performance-related reasons and says claims against Dever are unfounded.
After Dever was placed on administrative leave, according to Arlington Public Schools, acting athletic director Robert DiLoreto learned about possible academic eligibility problems with some student athletes. The school launched an investigation that uncovered the problems.
Even players on teams that did not forfeit games were frustrated by the decision.
“You put in 6 out of 7 days to do this, and now there’s no results,” said John Lepore, 18, a hockey player whose team did not have to forfeit games. “You play to win.”
Doug Fagan, whose son is a sophomore on football, wrestling, and lacrosse teams at Arlington High School, said he received a letter in the mail Wednesday from the school district about the forfeited games.
He was among a group of parents who led a fight two years ago against large hikes in athletic fees for students at Arlington High School. Last year parents also raised concerns about aging football helmets used by the school possibly putting players at risk of head injuries.
Fagan called the string of problems with the athletic department “embarrassing” and the school’s announcement about forfeitures a “bomb.” “This is an unbelievable amount of work to fix this mess,” Fagan said.
According to a letter interim Arlington High School Principal Mary Villano sent to parents this week, several students across several sports were academically ineligible and some foreign exchange students also did not have the waivers they needed from the MIAA to play sports. The letter said when a student is determined to be ineligible, the student, his or her parents or guardians, and the coach must be informed that they are unable to participate in sports.
“Unfortunately, it appears that during 2011-2012, this task was not adequately performed because in several instances grades were not adequately checked or accurate results reported to the principal,” Villano wrote.
Wetzel said Arlington Public Schools must now write a letter to every school in which it must forfeit a game, explaining that an ineligible player participated and that the school can retroactively adjust the win-loss records of their teams.
Ultimately, Wetzel said that under MIAA rules the responsibility of checking student eligibility to participate in athletics falls on the school principal.
But Wetzel said most of the time the principals delegate the responsibility of checking eligibility to the athletic director. He said the principal still must certify the roster for any team sport that players are eligible.
Wetzel said in general when an eligibility issue is found, it’s not uncommon to find that there is a new principal who has come in and is still learning his or her responsibilities. He said he does not know if that was the case in Arlington.
Villano took over as interim principal at Arlington High School at the start of the 2011-2012 school year after former principal Charles Skidmore retired.
She did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the chair of the school committee, said it is her understanding that in Arlington the responsibility of checking student eligibility for athletics is delegated to the athletic director. But the school committee chairwoman then said she could not discuss personnel matters.
Allison-Ampe said her fellow committee members were all notified of the forfeitures before the letter was sent out to parents this week, but the panel has not yet had the opportunity to discuss it. She said she has already heard from one parent who expressed disappointment about the forfeitures.
“I personally am disappointed that administrative oversight can cast a shadow on our athletic program, but I’m happy it’s not going to affect individual student records or college applications,” Allison-Ampe said.
She said the School Committee will be discussing the forfeitures at its meeting Thursday, Dec. 20. “We’ll be looking at why it happened and what measures have been taken to prevent it in the future,” she said.
Wetzel said Arlington notified the MIAA about the forfeitures late Tuesday and the district seems to have followed all of the rules about forfeiting games due to ineligible players. He said the MIAA’s next step will be to talk to school officials about how the situation came about.
“It may be, in an unusual case like this, that one of our committees, our eligibility committee, will be in touch with the school,” Wetzel said.