A plea by a group of Payson parents to reinstate the Lady Longhorns in the Class 3A state girls basketball tournament was rejected Wednesday.
Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Cahill ruled Feb. 14 in favor of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, which parents claimed acted unjustly when it disqualified Payson from the state playoffs one day after the Lady Horns had won the 3A East region tournament championship.
In disqualifying PHS, the AIA also ruled the school must forfeit all games in which senior point guard Rhea Cosay played.
Cosay, who transferred to Payson from Alchesay Whiteriver last summer, was declared ineligible because PHS officials did not file guardianship papers with the AIA until after the regular season wrapped up.
The injunction the parents sought would have put a halt to the state tournament that began the day prior to Cahill's ruling.
Class 3A East teams, however, were not slated to play until Feb. 14.
That day, Lady Longhorn players traveled to the tournament, held in Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, with their uniforms and equipment in hand.
However, when the 11:30 a.m. game tipped off -- the game the Lady Horns were to have played in -- the East's original No. 2 seed, Alchesay, took to the court.
When the AIA disqualified Payson from the tournament, the East seedings were shuffled and the other three region qualifiers moved up a slot.
In a Feb. 12 playoff, Blue Ridge beat Snowflake to replace Payson in the tournament.
AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer said it was unfortunate that the Lady Longhorns had been disqualified after posting such a banner season (22-5) but "the AIA has been consistent in following its bylaws and the judge agreed."
Slemmer also said that the rule PHS violated by not filing proper guardianship papers for Cosay has been in effect for decades and is "a common one which every state has."
The executive director did point out that Cosay's transfer from Alchesay to Payson wasn't her first.
"She has attended three schools in four years," he said.
Cosay was the subject of some controversy in 2004 when she moved from Alchesay to East Fork Lutheran where she played basketball.
Some coaches in the Class 1A region, of which East Fork is a member, complained the AIA should not have allowed the transfer.
Slemmer said he did not know the details of the transfer.
Alchesay athletic director Reedy David did not immediately return phone calls.
Following the Lady Horns' disqualification from the state tournament and the issuance of the order to forfeit the games in which Cosay played, PUSD superintendent Sue Myers and PHS principal Roy Sandoval said the school was at fault in not filing the guardianship papers.
The administrator responsible, athletic director Dave Bradley, was suspended for five days and reassigned to other duties.
Assistant principal Tim Fruth was appointed his replacement.
Fruth, who has been a middle school athletic director and coached football and basketball, said he was in an uncomfortable position but promised, "I will do the best I can under the circumstances."
Parents speak out
Melodi Deaton, the parent of Lady Longhorn Christina Deaton and one of those involved in asking Cahill for the injunction, said the team's disqualification was "an injustice that will never be rectified."
Deaton, speaking for the players' parent group, said PHS administrators should have submitted Cosay's eligibility papers to the AIA last August.
That's when Cosay enrolled at PHS and became a member of the PHS cross country team where her eligibility was never questioned.
Deaton said that since the Lady Horns' disqualification from the playoffs, Cosay has been unfairly blamed for what was the fault of the school. "She has been viciously and slanderously attacked for what was a PHS administrator error," she said.
She also said that at the hearing in front of Cahill, the judge told the parent group that he was sure if the school had submitted Cosay's guardianship papers as required, her eligibility would have been approved.
In a press release issued early this week, the school district said that because of the incident, "new student eligibility screening procedures are currently under consideration to ensure that all eligibility requirements are met."
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Team booted from tournament