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MIAA penalizes Natick

Gardner barred from tourneys

FRANKLIN — An almost five-hour MIAA Board of Directors meeting proved that even educated adult administrators and elected officials can sometimes act younger than their students.

Plymouth South’s and Natick’s ongoing dispute regarding Natick’s use of an illegal football at the Nov. 27 playoff game landed before the board with South appealing the decision of the Football Committee to punish Natick only by requiring Natick coaches to attend a class. In a discussion that was part “yes-you-did,” part “no-I-didn’t,” the sides split time expressing innocence and frustration.

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Earlier in the meeting, the board took the unprecedented move of barring Gardner High from competing in the MIAA’s winter tournaments for ignoring punishments placed on the school and its swim team. Gardner’s 2012 sectional swimming title was revoked and the school was placed on probation for two years in October. The MIAA said Gardner may have broken the MIAA’s “bona fide team” rule by allowing swimmers to skip school practices to attend club events. The board ordered Gardner to return the swim trophy.

Mayor Mark Hawke, who serves as chairman of the Gardner School Committee, said at the time he had no plans to return the trophy and was considering displaying it in his office.

“If they want to come and get the trophy, they will have to pry my cold dead hands from around it,” he said.

Wednesday, upon learning of the additional sanctions, Hawke said the comment was made light-heartedly and that the MIAA was taking things too far.

“With regard to the trophy, I am the one that uttered the Charlton Heston line ‘from my cold dead hands,’ ” Hawke said. “It was a joke and most people took it that way. However, I must now plea to the MIAA to ‘let my people go.’ ”

Hawke said he called Dick Neal during the meeting and offered to deliver the trophy to the MIAA headquarters in Franklin at 10 a.m. Thursday.

“I will hand deliver their most precious trophy, which I could have replicated at John’s Sport Shop in downtown Gardner for $5,” Hawke said. “It is utterly amazing to me how vindictive and petty the MIAA is being.’’

If Gardner returns the trophy by March 5, the school will be allowed to compete in the spring tournaments. If not, the spring teams will be barred from the MIAA’s postseason tournaments and their membership renewal will not be accepted for the 2013-14 school year.

Hawke may have been defiant, but MIAA board members matched his frustration.

“This is not about compliance,’’ said Dudley-Charlton superintendent Sean Gilrein. “It is about defiance.”

“We’re not making the decision, it’s the city of Gardner,” said Shawsheen superintendent Charles Lyons. “It’s the adults running the program.”

The 13-0 board vote against Gardner was the first of its kind in Neal’s 34-year tenure as executive director. Neal called Gardner’s refusal to comply “unprecedented and quite serious.”

“We’ve given them two bites at the apple,’’ said Concord-Carlisle athletic director Barry Haley in reference to Gardner’s two appearances before the board to explain their actions. “This is deliberate.”

The football dispute began when Natick used a Wilson ball during its Division 2A semifinal game with Plymouth South, which Natick won, 38-33. South used the Spaulding J5V ball, the offical ball of the MIAA postseason, but a ball many coaches say is inferior to the Wilson ball. All schools, including Natick, were instructed to use only the Spaulding J5V at a meeting the day before the semifinals. But at the game site, a Natick coach asked again about the balls and was told by officials at the site that because of the poor weather conditions they could use any ball they wanted. Plymouth South was not given the same message.

In the fourth quarter, Plymouth South pointed out Natick’s use of the Wilson ball to official’s and Natick was penalized 15 yards. But Plymouth South administrators felt Natick gained an unfair advantage. Plymouth South requested a special meeting of the football committee, which was held Dec. 19. Six decisions were made by the committee and Plymouth South, represented by coach Scott Fry, principal Pat Fry, and Vocational Studies Principal James Hanna, was there Wednesday to appeal two of them.

The first was the committee’s 11-0 vote that Natick did not intentionally use the Wilson ball to gain an advantage.

“I’m upset with the fact our integrity is being questioned,” said Natick principal Rose Bertucci, who was joined by athletic director Tim Collins and coach Mark Mortarelli. “The officials made a game-day decision and they [coaches] went with that.”

“I would never intentionally cheat in a football game,’’ said Mortarelli, whose team went on to lose the Super Bowl, 28-21, to Beverly. “I feel horrible that this whole situation happened.”

But Plymouth South believes its team paid a price for obeying the rules. “The Wilson ball provides a significant advantage,’’ said Hanna.

The board went into executive session for close to an hour. Their decision? Believing that Natick never should have asked about using the Wilson ball and doing so was an unsportsmanlike act, the board ordered all Natick football coaches to attend not one, but all three classes offered by the National Federation as well as the MIAA’s class on sportsmanship.

“I view this as a mistake by the Natick coaches. I view this as a mistake by the officials,” said Lyons.

East Boston principal Mike Rubin summed it up for many of his colleagues. “I’m very disappointed in this whole situation. It’s disgusting.”

.   .   .

The board voted, 10-3, to eliminate boys gymnastics as an MIAA sport. This winter will be the final season as an MIAA-sponsored sport . . . Neal said the MIAA is down $200,000 from Dec. 31, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2012, in major part because of the record low turnout at Gillette and the bad weather at both the semifinals and Super Bowls. He said he hoped a strong winter tournament would make up for it . . . Eleven schools will appeal their divisional alignments at the next MIAA Football Committee Jan. 22.

Dave Nordman of the Telegram & Gazette staff contributed to this report.
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