Ruling gives Martinsburg 8-0 record

Judge will make a permanent decision Dec. 12

Judge will make a permanent decision Dec. 12

October 23, 2007|By MARK KELLER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? Martinsburg High School hasn't lost a football game on the field this season, but their fortune in dealing with an issue off the field has been less than desirable.

But that fortune changed Tuesday.

A Berkeley County Circuit judge granted Martinsburg a preliminary injunction in its appeal against the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, restoring the two wins the Bulldogs forfeited for using an academically ineligible player who submitted falsified documents in order to play.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Gina Groh overturns the Sept. 6 decision by SSAC executive director Gary Ray to force the forfeiture of Martinsburg wins over Morgantown and Potomac Falls, Va., and later votes by the SSAC Board of Directors and the SSAC Board of Review that upheld the ruling.

SSAC to take further legal action

Groh scheduled a hearing for Dec. 12 to decide whether to make her order permanent. SSAC attorney John Wooton said it would be a moot issue then, referring to the fact that the state championship football games are scheduled for Dec. 1.


Ray said the SSAC will take further legal action.

"We will proceed on to the next level. We can't wait until December to have this settled," Ray said.

The court win gives Martinsburg an 8-0 record, which would place the Bulldogs at the top of the SSAC's Class AAA playoff ratings. In the new ratings, which were released before the ruling was issued Tuesday, Martinsburg was rated 11th.

"I feel pretty good right now. I thought it was fair, but I know this wasn't the final step," Martinsburg coach David Walker said. "The bottom line is we won those games on the field."

The player came to Martinsburg from Montgomery County, Md., using a faked report card that indicated he was eligible to play.

Martinsburg attorney Harley Staggers said the player's mother, who was an employee of Montgomery County Public Schools, twice produced falsified documents that indicated he was eligible.

Staggers said Martinsburg officials did their due diligence in attempting to get the player's true transcript, including sending a representative to the Montgomery County Public Schools offices. It was there, Staggers said, "they finally found a person that said, 'You've been duped.'"

That same day, Ray issued his original order that Martinsburg would forfeit their two wins.

Staggers used statements made by SSAC officials and attorneys during Martinsburg's appeal hearing before the SSAC Board of Review on Oct. 11.

He quoted from the transcript of that hearing: "This is the first time (the WVSSAC) has ever seen such action on the part of a student and a parent. It's outlandish."

'A rule is a rule'

The SSAC accepted in the Oct. 11 hearing that Martinsburg had been victimized, but they're still punishing Martinsburg and not the player, Staggers said. He also said if the school were to lose the home playoff games it rightfully earned, it would cause irreparable harm, including loss of revenue and home-field advantages.

Martinsburg athletic director Greg Reed said the concession stands bring in an average of $7,000 to $8,000 for each playoff game. The host school also gets a larger percentage of the gate receipts from the SSAC.

Wooton said on several occasions during the hearing, "A rule is a rule." He likened the forfeitures to that of a penalty flag being thrown on the football field. Only one player commits the foul, Wooton said, but the entire team gets penalized.

His analogy drew groans from the Martinsburg fans who packed the small courtroom. Groh wasn't buying it either.

"This is different than a penalty on the field," Groh said. "We have an intentional fraud in this case."

Player had little impact on outcome

Wooton argued that Martinsburg officials received the player's transcript prior to their second game, yet still used the player. He also argued that the player did receive significant playing time, citing game film that showed him on the field for 131 of 286 total plays in the two games.

Walker stated that the player had little impact on the games. "We would have won those games if he'd been on the field or not," he told Groh.

In announcing her ruling, Groh said that Martinsburg took no advantage of other teams and that the student was "not so much a performer who would affect the outcome of the game."

Groh also said the forfeitures would cause irreparable harm to Martinsburg due to the loss of revenue. She added that it was "inequitable to punish students who played their hearts out and the fans and community who support them for the actions of one person."

"I think we've stated that clearly, it still comes back to the punishment doesn't fit the crime," Walker said. "The kids are innocent in this. A lot of people are going to be upset with this, but someone's got to look out for the kids."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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