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A Hard Lesson

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Greetings from The Booth!

Let’s jump right in. Recently, a listener of my morning radio show shared with me an open letter to the Virginia High School League (the governing body of scholastic sports in Virginia) from 19 members of the Handley High School boys soccer team. The VHSL had ruled that because the Judges had used an ineligible player in some of their games, those wins (4 plus a tie) would have to be forfeited, moving Handley from near the top of the Class 4 Northwestern district standings, to near the bottom. According to reports, the player met age and academic requirements, but had exhausted his eight semesters of eligibility.  Handley self-reported the violation when they became aware and the athletic department has apologized for not catching the mistake. The Judges, who have won three straight since the situation was corrected, are still eligible for postseason play.

The letter from the 19 soccer players is well-written and they make their case in a thoughtful manner. The players make mention of the diverse makeup and sportsmanlike nature of their team. They attempt to show the difference between intentional and unintentional infractions. They point out that the staffer who made the mistake is “really nice, usually does good work, and is liked by all the students.” The players cite the lost years of COVID, and make the argument that the VHSL makes kids “pay for the mistakes of adults.”

All of the above points, while passionately made, are, to quote Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Runaway Jury, “colored bubbles.” The “adult” mistake was made by a Handley staffer. While that person may be well-liked by all, etc., it was their job to make sure that the ineligible player was (or wasn’t) compliant, and they missed it. It was an error committed by the Handley athletic department, and they have owned it.

The time lost because of COVID, while unfortunate for anyone (not) playing sports during the pandemic, has nothing to do with this ruling. And the diverse and sportsmanlike nature of the team, both great qualities for sure, is also irrelevant.

I’m probably giving up my honorary Handley Pride status, but I have to put on the Black Hat on this one and side with the VHSL. To make rulings on a case by case basis is to open themselves up to much scrutiny and is too subjective. Rules are in place to insure a fair and level playing field for all. To say that the ineligible player didn’t have much impact on the games is to go down a slippery slope of trying to define “impact.” There is also the rabbit hole of intentional versus unintentional mistakes. While I’m sure this is a case of an unintentional error, how can you know with 100 percent surety?

The lesson here is that adversity is a part of life, and champions overcome adversity. The Judges, who lose an automatic berth in the regional tournament, still have an opportunity to do great things this year in the postseason. The Handley boys soccer team needs to use this ruling by the VHSL as a chip on their collective shoulder and channel the negative energy into a state championship. How sweet that would be!

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO JUDGES!



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