An infraction of Arizona Interscholastic Association eligibility rules turned what should have been a crowning moment in the Lady Longhorns' quest for champion status into a bitterly sour end to a once-promising season.
The AIA's announcement of the disqualification came Sunday, only a day after the Lady Horns had earned the East region tournament championship and a No. 1 state seed with a 59-44 victory over Alchesay Whiteriver in Snowflake.
The state tournament will tip off today, Tuesday, at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff without the Payson team.
The regulation PHS is accused of violating, Article 15 of the AIA bylaws, states, "a student, whether an adult or not, is privileged with eligibility for interscholastic competition only at the school in the district in which his/her parents are domiciled."
The Payson basketball player whose residency is in question, 18-year-old Rhea Cosay, did not live locally with either her parents or guardians.
The senior point guard transferred to Payson High School from Alchesay Whiteriver last summer.
On Monday morning, following the announcement of the Lady Horns disqualification, PHS administrators gathered to submit an appeal to the AIA to have the team reinstated.
Later that afternoon AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer told the Payson Roundup the appeal had been heard by the executive board but was denied. He also said the games Cosay played in during the season, which amounted to all but four, must be forfeited.
Slemmer said the Lady Horns were booted from the state tournament and games forfeited because Payson High School "did not file legal guardianship papers (for Cosay) with us."
Slemmer also called the residency rule "a common one which every state has."
Parents of several of the players met with PHS administrators Monday morning and indicated they would seek legal help in their quest to convince the AIA that the Payson girls should be allowed to play in the state tournament.
Another parents' meeting was held later that afternoon.
The results were not known at press time, but a parent, who asked not to be identified, said, "We are communicating with an attorney and expect some results."
Also yesterday afternoon, Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval and District Superintendent Sue Myers issued a press release explaining the AIA's investigation into Cosay's eligibility. In addition to issuing the press release, the two said athletic director Dave Bradley -- the administrator whose responsibility it was to check student athlete eligibility -- had been reassigned to other administrative duties and will be suspended for five days.
PHS assistant principal Tim Fruth, a former Lady Horn head basketball coach and Rim Country Middle School athletic director, was immediately appointed to replace Bradley.
"I am going to do the best I can under the circumstances," Fruth said.
The new AD promised revised eligibility screening procedures for student athletes would be instituted immediately.
The AIA's disqualification of Payson from postseason play was not related to an earlier incident in which Cosay was suspended from the team for four games. That suspension was for infractions of the school discipline policy, regarding the drinking of alcohol, while Cosay was visiting in Whiteriver.
That infraction raised the ire of many sports fans who argued Cosay should have been suspended for the entire season, as was a band of football players last fall. Those players were ousted for school policy infractions similar to Cosay's -- the drinking of alcohol off campus.
Penalties for the two incidents were administered under different discipline policies.
Football coach Josh Anderson's team policy was to suspend players for the entire season for alcohol violations.
Lady Longhorn coach Grant Coley followed school student-athlete guidelines, which dictate suspensions of four games for alcohol-related infractions.
Following Cosay's suspension, she returned to the lineup in time to play in both East regional tournament games Feb. 9 and 10 in Snowflake.
The AIA's decision to oust PHS from the state tournament put a premature end to one of the finest seasons in the history of Lady Horn basketball.
In addition to PHS winning the regional championship, the Lady Horns compiled a 24-5 record, were state third-ranked and shared the regular season East title with Round Valley.
Coley predicted in midseason his team had the talent to contend for the school's first girls state basketball tournament.
Sandoval called the entire situation a blow to the players, school and community.
"It's very unfortunate, a sad day for all of us," he said.
Press release issued by Payson High School administrators
On Thursday, Feb. 8, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) notified Payson High School Administration that they were investigating an anonymous phone call that the Payson Longhorn girls basketball team was using an ineligible player, due to improper guardianship. School administration immediately faxed paperwork to the AIA offices for review. On Sunday, the AIA notified Payson High School officials that the Payson High School girls basketball team would forfeit all games in which the player had participated.
Monday morning school officials met with parents and Superintendent Sue Myers. A formal appeal process was initiated to the AIA on behalf of the girls basketball team. The appeal included the appropriate verification paperwork and procedures put into place to ensure that further incidents related to guardianship will not occur. AIA officials have indicated that the appeal will be considered before the Executive Board as soon as possible.
New student eligibility screening procedures and staff changes at Payson High School are currently under consideration to ensure that all eligibility requirements are met before students are allowed to participate.
(The release was issued prior to the AIA decision on Monday afternoon.)
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