On Wednesday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association reversed its earlier decision to disqualify Lady Longhorn point guard Rhea Cosay.
They announced Wednesday, Feb. 21, that Cosay is now an eligible student athlete and will be allowed to compete, if she chooses, on the Payson High School track and field team.
That reversal came just 10 days after the AIA, in a rare Sunday meeting, ruled Cosay ineligible because PHS administrators had not filed proper hardship guardianship papers for the Alchesay transfer.
With the ruling, the Lady Longhorn basketball team -- which won the East region tournament championship on Feb. 10 -- was booted from the Class 3A state tournament.
Although a group of parents filed an appeal to reinstate the team into the postseason, Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Cahill ruled Feb. 14 in AIA's favor.
The Payson girls, who would have taken a No. 1 seed into the postseason, were never allowed to play in the tournament.
AIA officials told PHS principal Roy Sandoval this week that it was not an anonymous tip from out-of-town sources that led to the association contacting PHS administrators about Cosay's eligibility.
Rather than being anonymous, AIA officials told Sandoval it was Payson residents who reported the eligibility infraction.
"We received four calls, but we never expected Payson had an ineligible player," said AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer.
Sandoval said the calls to the AIA "were a result of a personal vendetta against a school administrator, which caused collateral damage to an unintended target -- our girls basketball team -- and they didn't deserve that."
Sandoval said the calls occurred at the worst possible time for members of the Lady Longhorn basketball team.
Since the announcement that Payson was ineligible for the postseason, there were those who believed the calls to the AIA were from someone in Whiteriver, which created obvious tensions between fans and players of the two schools during the opening rounds of the state tournament.
AIA takes heat, defends itself
A local parent group, which has hired legal help, has taken issue with how the AIA handled the situation.
Tiffany McDaniel, a spokesperson for the parent group, claims the AIA executive board violated its own bylaws when it failed to notify PHS in writing of the alleged ineligibility.
AIA bylaws read, "Should a violation of AIA rules and regulations come to the attention of the AIA executive board from a source other than the member school believed to have committed the violation, the AIA executive board shall so notify the member school in writing."
Sandoval said the school was never notified in writing, but only received a "courtesy call" from AIA Associate Executive Director Glen Treadaway.
AIA bylaws also state, "Sources other than the member school who report a possible violation must make the possible violation known to the school involved ..."
Sandoval said that never occurred and he did not know who made the calls to the AIA until his midweek conversation with Slemmer.
McDaniel also refuted an AIA press release that read, "Payson forfeited their entire season based on the playing of an ineligible player that did not meet the AIA domicile requirements based on guardianship."
McDaniel said high school administrators admitted their mistake, but never forfeited the entire season and were quick to correct Cosay's paperwork once the clerical errors were uncovered.
It was, she said, an arbitrary decision of the AIA executive board that forced Payson to forfeit its games and drop out of the tournament.
Following the team's disqualification from the state tournament, PHS Athletic Director Dave Bradley was suspended for five days and reassigned to new duties.
Associate Principal Tim Fruth has taken over as athletic director.
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