One of the stronger high school football programs in Maryland is not going to the playoffs, and it's missing out for one of the strangest violations in recent memory.
As first reported by the Baltimore Sun, Westminster (Md.) Senior High finished the 2011 regular season with a sparking 9-1 record, replete with a string of seven consecutive blowout wins to finish the campaign. In those seven games, the Owls outscored their opponents by an enormous edge of 289-33.
The penultimate victory in that string came against Manchester (Md.) Valley High, by a score of 57-7. Yet, technically, that game will go down as a loss, and a particularly costly one at that, because of what happened on their final drive. With the game already well in hand, Westminster coach Brad Wilson inserted a junior varsity player for the team's final offensive possession.
Unfortunately, because that player had already competed in a junior varsity game earlier that week, he was technically ineligible to compete at the varsity level within the same seven-day period in accordance with a little-known bylaw within the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rulebook.
That meant that the entire Manchester Valley rout was deemed a forfeit, with that loss bumping Westminster to 8-2, and out of the forthcoming North Region playoffs.
Making the matter all the more disappointing is that Wilson went out of his way to ensure that he wouldn't be breaking any rules by playing the junior varsity star. Before the Manchester Valley game, Wilson asked his athletic director, Terry Molloy, if the player would be eligible to play. Molloy then consulted with Carroll County Public Schools supervisor of athletics Jim Rodriguez, who told the AD and coach that the player would be eligible.
Follow that logic back, and it appears that Rodriguez should bare the brunt of responsibility for Westminster's premature end to the season (though, to be fair, the coach, AD and Rodriguez himself probably should have checked the official bylaws more carefully). To his credit, Rodriguez has already apologized to the Owls football team in person.
The Carroll County Public Schools and Molloy, on behalf of Westminster, filed an appeal of the forfeit with the MPSSA, but the state organization denied the appeal summarily, making the team's premature end of the season official.
Of course, those extra efforts have done little to salve the anger felt by Wilson and his players, who were sure they would be preparing for a playoff game in November instead of watching the postseason unfold from the stands.
"These kids are being cheated," said an emotional Wilson, whose Owls completed the season with an 8-2 overall mark and a 6-1 county record. "I wanted to make absolutely sure, so I went to my boss (Molloy) and he checked with Jim Rodriguez. Jim not only said he could play, but that he could even go back to jayvee and then come back up for this week's game.
"It's not fair, but what can you do?" Wilson said. "It's a shame that it has to end this way."
- Terry Molloy