Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 3, 2013

On probation

Fairview’s magical football season is erased by KHSAA

The Independent

ASHLAND — Fairview High School enjoyed a football season in 2012 that was a dream come true. The Eagles marched to the state championship team with a 14-0 record before losing in the title game.

With the team recording victory after victory by mostly lopsided scores, just about every man, woman and child was cheering for the Eagles and flocking to the school’s football  for a local version of “Friday Night Lights.”

The impact of that season on the community was so great some believe it played a major role in convincing voters in the Fairview Independent District to finally approve a utilities tax they had repeatedly rejected.

As the 2013 season began, the Eagles, under coach Nathan McPeek, set a team goal of carrying the new season one step further by winning the state championship.

But the dream season of 2012 turned into a nightmare Friday when the Kentucky High School Athletic Association ruled the entire 14-1 2012 season had to be forfeited and the state runnerup trophy returned, along with all the other hardware the Eagles received leading up to the title game.

In addition, the school had to forfeit four games played this season and the team was declared ineligible for this year’s payoffs, in which the Eagles already were slated to play their first game at home this Friday night.  The school has also agreed to pay $5,000 — a $2,800 restitution to the KHSAA for travel allowances paid during the 2012 state football finals —  and $550 to each of the four schools Fairview defeated in the 2012 playoffs.

The football team is under probation through 2017, but it will still be eligible for the playoffs beginning next year.

To their credit, Fairview Superintendent  Bill Musick and the Fairview Board of Education did not point the finger of blame at the KHSAA or cry foul. Instead, Musick blamed himself and members of the athletic department for the KHSAA’s actions.

“For 55 years, Fairview schools have had an outstanding relationship with the (KHSAA). Today’s ruling will not change that relationship,” Musick said Friday. “We, as a staff at Fairview Schools, accept the responsibility for what has transpired.”

KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett offered a word of encouragement. “It is my hope that this setback, and the many lessons learned by all of those involved, will only serve to strengthen their resolve to do things correctly and fairly on behalf of the students, coaches, administrators and fans,” Tackett said.

Friday night’s away game with James Gamble Montessori in Cincinnati was Nathan McMeek’s final one as coach of the Eagles. His uncle, Garry McPeek, earlier resigned as athletic director and as an assistant coach. He stepped down as principal of Fairview High and has been reassigned as an elementary physical education teacher.

While the Eagles lost on the field to archrival Raceland, their 8-1 record became 4-5 with the KHSAA ruling.

The KHSAA penalized Fairview for playing an ineligible player throughout all of last season and part of this season. Neither Coach McPeek nor the player, Chris Perkins who transferred from Ashland, said he knew he was not eligible under KHSAA rules, but in this case, ignorance of the rules was not an acceptable excuse. It is the responsibility of the athletic director and the coaches to know the rules and see they are enforced fairly.

Under McPeek, Fairview found success on the gridiron by playing many players who did not live in the Fairview district. That’s not against the rules and Fairview is not the only school that plays many non-district residents, but such schools always direct added attention from the schools they play and from the KHSAA.  The schools know that and it should give them added reason to be careful to play by the rules.

In this case, Fairview failed to do that. To make sure it does not happen again, two or three programs have been initiated to bring checks and balances, Musick said. Henceforth coaches, the principal and athletic director all will be in the loop to ensure no one person is entirely liable.

With the checks and balances system in place, any violation of this magnitude in the future would be a firing offense. “We’ve got to hold everybody accountable,” Musick said, adding that with the new level of accountability, the chances of a major violation are “slim to none,” he said. That’s good, because Musick acknowledged that if another “slip-up” occurs during Fairview’s period of probation, the penalty would be severe.

Not so many years ago, Fairview High dropped football, citing the high cost of fielding a team and the difficulty the small school had in getting enough players to field a competitive team. At the request of scores of Westwood residents, the high school restored football after an absence of one year, but it had to start anew at the bottom by playing only junior varsity games.

In some ways, starting over is what the Eagles will be doing again when they take the field for the 2014 season. The team will have a new coach and it is doubtful that many out-of-district players will opt to play for Fairview with Coach McPeek’s departure. But just as Fairview recovered from  its year without football, it can recover from this latest setback.

Folks  in Westwood love their sports, particularly football. We fully expect the Eagles will be  back as a winning team. Only the next time, they will be playing by the rules.