BY JEFF FALK
Is it fair, right or just? All depends on your point of view, your agenda.
What is is a tragedy. If only because there are victims involved.
And those victims are of the most innocent in nature.
Through no fault of the players and coaches, the Northern Lebanon football team recently voluntarily forfeited two early season games that it had won handily on the scoreboard. The Northern Lebanon administration self-reported to the PIAA’s District Three that the Vikings had used a player who was ineligible during a 52-0 victory over Pine Grove and a 51-27 triumph over Lebanon High in September.
The entire incident seems to have resulted from an – again innocent – oversight by the administration.
In order to win those early games on the scoreboard, the Viking coaches and players put in long hours of hard work on the practice field, in the film room and in the class room.
But through it all, members of the Viking football team have remained steadfast in their resolve, committed to one another and their goals, and determined to make a positive out of a negative. In some strange way, the turn of events may have even brought an already tight-knit group closer together.
Ironically, the situation may have also taught the Vikings a tough life lesson, through their competition in sports. With their response, the Vikings have scored a touchdown on an entirely different plane.
Northern Lebanon head coach Roy Wall declined an opportunity to be interviewed for this piece.
“Is it a tragedy?,” said Northern Lebanon’s first-year athletic director Dave Yavoich. “I guess it depends on your perspective. One thing I will say about our students, I’m very proud of them, that they remained focused and working towards their goals. They’re a good team.
“We’re just following PIAA regulations,” added Yavoich. “That’s the priority they give for that type of violation.”
“We have sympathy for the situation,” said District Three official Rod Frisco. “But the rule is the rule. There’s zero tolerance. There’s no recourse. There’s no appeal. It’s nothing against Northern Lebanon. Each school has different methods for monitoring eligibility. We don’t know whose responsibility it is.”
The penalty has been steep for a Northern Lebanon club which entered the season with high expectations.
The two forfeits are the only blemishes for a Viking club that remains undefeated on the scoreboard. In the history of Lebanon County football, only a handful of teams have gone through regular seasons unbeaten.
Before the losses, Northern Lebanon stood eighth in the District Three Class AAA power rankings. The forfeits moved the Vikings to 15th. Currently, Northern Lebanon stands 17th in a Class AAA field that takes 16 teams for its postseason.
Last season, Northern Lebanon played host to a District Three playoff game for the first time in school history. The forfeit losses probably doused any hopes the Vikings had for hosting a playoff game this season, and if they do manage to qualify for the playoffs, they would likely face one of the top-seeded Class AAA teams in District Three.
At 4-0, the Vikings remain on course to repeat as Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three champions.
“Overall, I’m happy where we’re at,” Wall told Lebanon Sports Buzz in August. “The kids are focused. They know no one is going to hand the section to them. But we can’t afford to look past anyone. Winning the section title, for this group, won’t be enough. We have to get into the playoffs and make some noise. We can’t go one and done.”
“I think the team is focused on winning the section championship and the district title,” said Yavoich. “Those were the goals at the beginning, and they still have those in sight. It all depends on how the power rankings fall. We won’t know until the end of the season (if the forfeits cost Northern Lebanon a playoff home game). I don’t want to speculate.”
“The Northern Lebanon school district is committed to maintaining the highest ethical standard for our athletic programs,” Superintendent Don Bell told television station CBS-21. “Our main goal as a school district and athletic department is to make sure all our student-athletes are prepared academically and athletically.”
“The eligibility rule has been in place for a number of years, as written,” said Frisco. “It’s up to the school. It is a shame for the kids at Northern Lebanon. But the schools are well aware that they have to keep things in order.”
Yavoich would not confirm or deny that junior runningback Dylan Weaver, who transferred to Northern Lebanon from Central Dauphin over the summer, was the player in question.
Typically, a player’s transcript from a previous school district is checked by the new district to determine his or her athletic eligibility. With Yavoich taking over his new responsibilites as athletic director, this summer was one of transiton for Northern Lebanon.
Weaver competed for the Vikings in Week One and Week Two, and he was also in the Northern Lebanon lineup for wins over Ephrata and Pequea Valley. Following a home win over Williams Valley, Wall confirmed that Weaver was no longer with the team.
One must assume that Weaver was eligible for the triumphs over Ephrata and Pequea Valley.
“If you use an academically ineligible player in a game, you could forfeit that game,” said Yavoich. “We took immediate action and self-reported that. I don’t want to get into all that (chronological) detail. I don’t want to share any student information. It’s based on PIAA regulations, that’s (the forfeits) standard procedure.
“We have a process, and on a weekly basis, an automated report determines who’s eligible or not,” continued Yavoich. “It all depends if the system would pick it up or not. It’s probably a number of people (who are involved in the eligibility process). It’s not one person’s responsibility. There’s checks and balances.”
“It is a PIAA eligibility issue,” said Frisco. “It’s based on grades and the transcript that follows you from school to school. I have not seen the transcripts. Apparently there was some oversight. He may have played in other games and may have been eligible. Those are the only two games they reported.
“There’s all sorts of things that can happen,” Frisco added. “We don’t know all those things.”
The Northern Lebanon administration has been guarded about taking responsibility for the incident publicly, instead choosing to handle it in house. According to one source, Yavoich did address the team as a group about the forfeits.
Taking responsibility for one’s actions is one of the greatest lessons learned through scholastic athletics.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for Northern Lebanon and for Dave for self-reporting,” said Frisco. “They did the right thing. It couldn’t have been easy. They did the right thing in a bad situation.
“It (forfeiting games) happens, with unfortunate frequency,” Frisco continued. “There have been many situations in the past, and teams have forfeited games. It’s probably our single biggest rules violation. This has happened in every district across the state, a number of times.”
A public-relations nightmare, the forfeits have come at a most inopportune time for the Northern Lebanon school district. Just beginning to subside was the public fervor of the administration’s botched firing of popluar boys’ basketball coach Gary Bouchette this spring.
To purchase images in this article email firstname.lastname@example.org.
|7:00 PM||L 0-2|
|7:00 PM||L 0-2|
|7:00 PM||W 36-25|
|7:00 PM||W 57-26|
|6:00 PM||W 42-17|
|7:00 PM||W 16-13|
|7:00 PM||W 44-41|
|7:00 PM||W 58-36|
|7:00 PM||Donegal High School|
|7:00 PM||Columbia High School|
Section Three Standings