Children Punished For The Sins Of Administrators

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Disappointment can seep into the lives of young people from many directions. In a world filled with subtle snares and pitfalls, it's more important than ever to help our children reach for their dreams and reap the rewards of hard-earned success.

This weekend, a talented, dedicated group of young athletes was forced to stand aside and watch as their dream of a state championship was dashed -- a prize snatched from their hands, not by a superior team, but by a thief called adult incompetence.

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Cydney Figueroa (15) defends against a Holbrook Roadrunner who tries to clear the way for a drive to the basket. Figueroa was named Most Valuable Player of the 3A East regional tournament.

The Lady Longhorn basketball team had an amazing year and the community watched as they earned their ticket to the school's first state girls basketball tournament. But after winning the East regional championship and capturing the No. 1 state seed, an anonymous phone call led to the revelation that one player was in violation of the Arizona Interscholastic Association's residency rule. The entire team paid the price for one ineligible player and they were disqualified from the tournament.

It was incomprehensible. It's hard to describe the despair that filled the eyes of the players and their parents.

Those hurt the greatest were a group of girls, mostly sophomores, who will be denied their dream of playing in the state tournament. That's a goal all good high school athletes strive to achieve.

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Lady Longhorn Christina Deaton (23) proved too much for either Holbrook or Alchesay to deal with during the East region tournament held Feb. 9 and 10 in Snowflake.

These girls are sometimes referred to as "gym rats" by their coaches because they have dedicated themselves to excelling at basketball. Many of them have been playing together since town league days in elementary school. They formed first-class seventh- and eighth-grade teams at Rim Country Middle School and even traveled to Hawaii to perfect their skills.

As freshmen, they won varsity letters. Their commitment is unquestionable. The heartbreak they must be feeling is tremendous.

What exacerbates the pain is the reality that this error could have been avoided had PHS administrators performed the residency requests, as the AIA clearly dictates. A mistake of this magnitude should never have been made.

But even with the sloppy oversight from within the PHS athletic department, the AIA was unforgiving in refusing to grant an appeal that would have allowed the girls to play.

It should have been obvious to the governing board that the girls were faultless in the debacle and their refusal to allow the team to play punished those who had not violated any rules.

A more flexible and understanding AIA board could have declared the one player ineligible for state and allowed the rest of the team, whose residency wasn't in question, to continue to play in the state tournament.

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Jenna Robertson (44) defends a Holbrook Roadrunner during the Lady Horns' 59-44 win in the semifinals of the East region tournament.

While the community is reeling from this disappointment, it should be noted that Payson High School acted swiftly, once the infractions were brought to light. There was never a hint of a cover-up and administrators were quick to acknowledge a mistake had been made and full responsibility was taken.

But while swift action was taken, the players suffered a grave injustice which robbed them of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Educators and coaches often ask, "What's best for the kids?"

In this case, what was best for the kids didn't happen.

The team suffered a loss greater than any defeat on the court, a loss of confidence in the adults who should have helped them reach for their dreams.

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