On Saturday, Maine South (Ill.) High won the Class 8A state title. On Monday, it was told there's an outside chance it will have to hand it back over, due to one of the most innocuous and slightly absurd administrative mistakes imaginable: forgery of sideline passes to get more former players and school dignitaries on the sideline for the state semifinals and finals.
"I don't think [forfeiting the state title] is necessarily likely, but it's possible," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman told the Chicago Sun-Times.
According to the Sun-Times, Maine South coaches and administrators have been asked to appear Dec. 13 at an IHSA board meeting, where they'll be asked to present both information on an internal investigation into the forged sideline-pass issue and how the school plans to avoid similar problems in the future.
Hickman was even more thorough in just how serious the allegation against the school is during an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
"Our rules are very clear about how many passes schools get and who is to get them," Hickman said. "We are taking this matter very seriously. We are concerned that they used fraudulent passes to gain a competitive advantage having extra coaches, extra spotters and extra people not available to other folks.
"I think the administration is embarrassed. They didn't condone it in any way, but this had to be orchestrated by somebody involved with the football program. I think that sends a terrible message to their kids and the schools they compete against."
Underlying the entire investigation is a concern over both Maine South's duplication of the passes and struggles that faced security officials when they tried to eject some of those who held the fraudulent passes. While the violation might seem fairly innocuous, Hickman said that having additional guests on the sidelines could provide a competitive advantage if some of those sideline guests were giving instructions or motivation to players on the field.
While overshadowed by the sideline pass allegations, Maine South is also being asked to answer about fans charging the field at the conclusion of the team's semifinal victory. In fact, Hawks fans didn't even just charge the field at the final whistle ... they also charged onto the turf with one second left, then ignored requests to stay in the stands when the game did officially end.
"That's something we don't want to happen," Hickman told the Sun-Times. "It's not safe. We ask schools not to permit that."
For the moment, the issues are still a distant backdrop to a magnificent season and bright future. The Hawks cruised past Mount Carmel (Ill.) High, 28-7, in the title game, thanks to dominant performances by sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti and junior running back Paul Preston, highlighting the bright prospects for Maine South's future.
Now the only question is whether it'll still officially have a state title to defend in 2011.