A paperwork miscue affecting athletic eligibility of transfer students has caused tournament trouble for two Delaware County Catholic League basketball teams scheduled to participate in PIAA Class 5A girls and boys basketball tournaments, which begin this week.
Cardinal O’Hara, the defending girls PIAA 5A state champions, is still in the state tournament but as the No. 3 seed out of District 12, not the No. 1 seed after the Lions had to forfeit a number of games for the use of an ineligible player.
The exact amount of games the Lions had to forfeit isn’t clear, and school officials have clearly been instructed not to comment on the issue.
O’Hara’s 2021-22 win-loss record, according to MaxPreps and the Daily Times, is 20-5. Yet the PIAA website lists O’Hara as 11-15. The status of the Lions’ 2022 Catholic League championship, which O’Hara had apparently won with a 55-30 victory over Archbishop Carroll last Monday, will instead be decided upon by the league’s Board of Governors at a later date.
The Lions will now play at Bishop Shanahan, the No. 3 team out of District 1, in the opening round Tuesday night, instead of hosting Marple Newtown, the fifth-seed from District 1. The Tigers will play St. Hubert on Tuesday night at Archbishop Ryan.
Meanwhile, on the boys side, the punishment was much worse for Bonner-Prendergast. The Friars were knocked out of the Class 5A tournament for the use of an ineligible player. Bonner-Prendie beat Mastery Charter North, 52-44, last week to claim the third seed from District 12, but subsequently had to forfeit that victory due to the use of an ineligible player. That berth now goes to the Mastery Charter, which will play at Bishop Shanahan, the No. 3 team out of District 1, in Tuesday’s first round.
Both situations involved paperwork mixups on transfers that were either not filed or not filed in a timely manner.
Under the PIAA’s transfer rules, any athlete who transfers after his or her 10th grade year is not eligible for post-season competition. That includes district and state playoffs. The player can participate in the regular-season, provided the proper paperwork is filled out. The student must get a release from the school he or she transferred from stating that the move was not for athletic reasons to be eligible for the regular season and can apply for a waiver to the postseason rule.
There are number of exceptions to this provision, including if a student moves, is coming from a boarding school or a court-assigned situation, among others. But both schools have to sign off for the player in question to be eligible.
In O’Hara’s case, the player in question apparently never received the clearance to play in the regular season which is why the Lions had to forfeit so many games. O’Hara athletic director B.J. Hogan said he could not comment on the issue other than what was said in a statement the school released on its Facebook page on Sunday. Head coach Chrissie Doogan also declined comment.
“I can’t talk or make any comments right now,” Doogan said in a text message.
She also referred to the statement the school released.
“We were disappointed to hear that our Philadelphia Catholic League and defending state championship girls basketball team will need to start their bid for back-to-back state titles on the road as the third seed out of District 12, instead of playing in front of their home fans as the top seed,” the statement read. “This is due to an eligibility issue regarding one of our players.
“Although we take ownership of the infraction and self-reported it to the PIAA, it should be emphasized that this was not the result of poor academic performance or any wrongdoing by the student-athlete involved. It simply involved some internal miscommunication and a basic clerical mistake. The PIAA rules are clear, and when we became aware of the situation, we notified the PCL and the PIAA. We are also taking corrective actions to prevent future occurrences.
“It is unfortunate that this has impacted the team at this time, but their resilience and toughness will get them through it. While we are not happy to be in this situation, we understand that mistakes happen, and we need to learn from them and move on. When we have any new information from the PCL or PIAA regarding this matter, we will be sure to update the O’Hara community.”
The Friars weren’t as fortunate. Head coach Kevin Funston said he found out the team was out of the PIAA tournament the day after it had defeated Mastery Charter North in the third-place game. Bonner-Prendie appealed the ineligible player decision to District 12, but the appeal was denied, Funston said.
Bonner-Prendergast also released a statement on its Facebook page.
“As you may have seen at this point, the season for our boys basketball team has come to an unfortunate conclusion that is disappointing for all of us,” the statement read. “We have been informed by the PIAA that we are required to forfeit our playoff victory from last Wednesday due to what they have determined as an eligibility issue due to the lack of a postseason waiver for a transfer student to our school.
“We have already appealed this matter to District 12, but our appeal was denied. From our perspective, we followed all the appropriate PIAA protocols required of our school in a timely fashion. Like you, we are very proud of our student-athletes and their accomplishments, especially in these unprecedented times, and we are also deeply disheartened by this unexpected turn of events.”
Part of the problem, Funston believes, is that there was a change in athletic directors in the middle of the school year which could have led to the oversight. Brian Wagner left in November to become the CEO of Heyday Athletic in Philadelphia. Wagner was replaced by Adam Marso in January.
“Before the last athletic director had resigned I had worked with him to make sure we got all the paperwork completed,” Funston told the Daily Times. “I said, ‘Are we good? What do we need? Can I help?’ So I assumed we had gotten everything we needed to get signed completed. But, for whatever reason, this form was never presented to the student. None of us knew this was something that had to be completed because we had a changing of the guard in athletic directors.”
Wagner declined to comment when reached by phone on Sunday and Marso did not return a message left on his voicemail.
“We never would have played him in the district game if we knew he was ineligible to play,” Funston said. “In the past we’ve had sophomore and junior transfers and we did all the paperwork and appeals and the kids were able to play without any issues. We thought the paperwork was processed and we were good to go. I think a lot of it was just assuming by adults that somebody took care of it.”