“Helpless” and “frustrated.”
That is how varsity soccer and lacrosse player Nina Kelty (‘13) was left feeling after her two most recent high school sports seasons. Both were lost to violations of California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) rules when Paly fielded ineligible players.
Last spring, the failure to recognize that an athlete on the girls’ lacrosse team did not have residency paperwork on file led to the forfeiture of six league victories and ruined the team’s chances of capturing a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League (SCVAL) title.
In a separate instance this winter, a member of the girls’ soccer team participated in an unsanctioned event during the Paly season which, when discovered, led to the forfeiture of three league victories and a first round Central Coast Section (CCS) championship playoff win. The team was disqualified from the tournament and may have lost its chance to move up to the De Anza division of SCVAL next fall.
In 2008, the boys’ basketball team faced a similar fate when its season was cut short due to a player’s ineligibility.
When events like these become familiar to athletes, delving into problems of the past can present solutions for the future. Insight comes from more than just the student-athletes of the Paly sports community: Coaches, parents, the athletic department and administration, section- and state-wide governing bodies and national and international teams can all offer valuable perspectives.
Despite the wide breadth of the Paly sports world, student-athletes make up the foundation. These are the individuals whose first-hand perspectives present problems in their most basic form. For Kelty, a member of both teams, the two events that caused back-to-back seasons to end suggest a shortcoming in Paly’s athletic program.
“The soccer and lacrosse incidents are exactly the same,” Kelty said. “Both come down to paperwork not being turned in, and the problems not being caught by the people [they] should be caught by.”
The Paly administration, though not fully responsible for the problems that have occurred, has not taken the lacrosse nor soccer circumstances lightly and hopes to avoid any future discrepancies between their own responsibilities and those of the athletic department and athletes involving CIF and CCS rulings.
“As much as I want to guarantee the world that nothing like this will ever happen again, that’s super tough,” principal Phil Winston said following the news of the soccer season’s end. “If things don’t go right we have the responsibility to figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Some members of the Paly sports community feel it is not enough to depend on the administration for CIF rule management. An opportunity for an athlete to take responsibility for her eligibility presented itself only days after the girls’ varsity soccer team’s season came to an end.
Varsity lacrosse captain Charlotte Biffar (‘13) was packing her bags in preparation for her tryout for the German Women’s National Lacrosse team when she caught wind of the soccer team’s forfeitures.
“I didn’t realize that I might be violating [CIF] rules by going to the tryouts and putting my whole team in jeopardy,” Biffar said. “I was really concerned that my team might yet again suffer devastating consequences similar to last season and to the soccer team’s situation. I wasn’t aware of any rules until the whole soccer incident occurred, and that’s when I realized I had to check in and figure out what the rules were.”
Through her proactive investigation, Biffar consulted with her coach, Jamie Nesbitt, and Biffar’s parents then confirmed with both Hansen and CCS staff that her participation in the tryout would in no way place the Paly team in jeopardy.
Fortunately for her lacrosse teams, Biffar was cleared to participate in both her tryouts and the Vikings’ season.
“We discovered that in the tryout I wouldn’t be scrimmaging any outside teams, so I could go to the tryout and also play on the Paly team,” Biffar said.
Biffar is not the only Paly athlete who has been invited to represent her nation. In the case of soccer player Jacey Pederson (’16), however, accepting such an honor led to unintended consequences.
The story behind the soccer forfeitures reveals forces at play that go beyond those existing within the team or the school. Problems arose out of miscommunications between the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s national governing body, and the CIF.
In Paly athletic director and head football coach Earl Hansen’s mind, that is why the events leading up to the two similar fates of the lacrosse and soccer seasons were “totally, totally, different.”
The rule broken in the case of the girls’ soccer team was CIF bylaw 600, which prohibits players from competing on other teams during the high school season: “A student on a high school team becomes ineligible if the student competes in a contest on an ‘outside’ team, in the same sport, during the student’s high school season of sport.”
On Jan. 26, Pederson traveled south to Carson, Calif. to join 26 other girls from across the nation in the U.S. Soccer Federation Under-17 National Team Training Camp. The camp and the two “friendly” games it included against the German national team were not sanctioned by CIF as they had been in years past. Eleven days later, Pederson returned to play for Paly.
Coming off a disappointing record (5-9-5 overall) and relegation to the El Camino division of the SCVAL in the 2011-2012 season, the Paly girls had made a monumental turn around. This year’s regular season ended with a 12-0-1 record, a league title and the sixth seed in the CCS Division I championship tournament for the team.
The athletic department’s first hint that there might be a problem came roughly one hour before the start of what would be a decisive 5-0 rout of San Benito High School in the first round of the postseason tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 20. CCS commissioner Nancy Lazenby Blaser informed Hansen of a potential issue with an athlete through an email that was “not specific,” according to Hansen.
The players were told at practice the next day that they had been disqualified from the tournament, which naturally came as a surprise to many members of the team.
“I think [I], as well as the whole team, was just completely in shock and devastated that this could ever happen,” midfielder Katie Foug (‘15) said. “It seemed so far-fetched. It seemed just unreal at first.”
California and Michigan are the only states that require Olympic Development Programs (ODPs) to apply for approval. CIF bylaw 604 states that “during their high school season of sport, a high school student who has been selected or qualified for an Olympic Development Program by the respective National Governing Body for that sport” will be permitted to participate if certain conditions are met. At some point, the camp that Pederson attended was listed on the CIF’s website on the “Olympic Development Programs” page under the heading “Not Approved.” The camp, however, is not technically considered an ODP by athletes or girls’ soccer coach Eric Seedman.
“I would never have clicked on that because this [the camp Jacey attended] is a national event,” Seedman said. “It’s not an ODP event, and I know I didn’t have any ODP players. Our players aren’t involved with that. The ones that are really good are involved in different programs. So I thought it wasn’t going to be under that heading, so I didn’t even look there.”
Notice of the unsanctioned camp would have signaled the Paly coaches to hold Pederson from participating in high school competitions. Because it was unsanctioned, all players from California who participated in scrimmages during the camp were considered ineligible to play for twice the number of games in their high school season. However, if the U.S. Soccer Federation had submitted its paperwork within the 30-day window required by CIF, instead of three days before the camp started, it would have been approved.
Blaser was first made aware of any violations of the bylaw within CCS on Monday, Feb. 18, when coach Richard Spencer of Santa Teresa High School informed the CCS board that one of his own players, Tegan McGrady (‘13), had participated in the camp, which prompted an investigation by Blaser herself.
That Tuesday, disciplinary action was levied against the Santa Teresa girls’ soccer team: The team forfeited the final four games of its season and McGrady was suspended from competition. The team was not, however, disqualified from the CCS tournament. Because Santa Teresa had a first round bye in the tournament, and McGrady’s ineligibility was discovered before the team’s first game, Santa Teresa was able to move on in the tournament. Blaser then moved on to looking into other athletes in CCS who may have participated in the camp.
At various times throughout the month, other participants who go to high school in California were finding out that the camp had not been sanctioned.
“A couple girls on my team who live in Southern California [had] their athletic director [tell] them about [bylaw 600] and they said that they were going to have to sit out a lot,” Pederson said. “They found out within a couple days of returning from camp. So there were two girls that found out probably within two weeks of returning from camp and then the other girl from Santa Teresa [and I], we found out within 24 hours of each other.”
Blaser explains that the delay in communication resulted from a failure to recognize the conflict posed by the unsanctioned camp until it was too late.
“I had no idea what high school teams they [athletes who participated in the camp] played for, if any,” Blaser wrote in an email to The Viking. “We have a staff of three administrators for 140 high schools and over 75,000 student athletes each year playing more than 40,000 athletic contests. So you can imagine, I have a few more responsibilities than to check every camp or clinic that is approved or not.”
This delay, coupled with a general, widespread unawareness of possible issues posed by the unsanctioned camp, resulted in irreversible consequences.
According to CIF’s stated vision, “athletic competition is an integral part of the high school experience. CIF strives to strengthen the integrity of students and adults across the state by promoting the concepts of sportsmanship, honesty and quality academics.”
While athletes should also be aware of CIF rules dictating their eligibility as players, the athletic department is ultimately relied on to sort through potential problems before they can become serious issues.
This is in accordance with the CCS general statement found on its website, which dictates that “it is the principal’s or designee’s responsibility to make sure that all students who compete on any school team are eligible under all CIF, CCS, league, district and school regulations.”
Team parent Hiromi Kelty, Nina Kelty’s mother, points out that the players seem to be shouldering an unfair punishment for something that was out of their control.
“The girls were told to suffer the consequences of some adult not filing proper paperwork in time, some adult not communicating clearly, some adult not understanding or enforcing CCS rules,” H. Kelty wrote in an email to CCS and CIF officials following the decision to disqualify the Paly team.
The administration’s response to and handling of the soccer and lacrosse violations are what set the two apart in N. Kelty’s mind.
“[There are] two main differences [between lacrosse and soccer],” Kelty said. In comparison to soccer, the lacrosse news came with instructions from the administration “not to tell our parents about it, which made me uncomfortable,” Kelty said. However, while in the lacrosse incident Kelty felt responsibility was never addressed, “[in soccer], they took some blame for it. Winston says they are changing things, but it’s hard to tell.”
N. Kelty speaks from her experience 10 months prior, when the varsity lacrosse team forfeited six games as a result of having a transfer student who was unaccounted for: Julia Farino (‘13) transferred from Menlo-Atherton High School (M-A) to Paly at the start of the second semester of her junior year and joined the varsity lacrosse team shortly thereafter. Farino was welcomed to the team with no special attention from the administration or athletic department.
“It was just like normal, no one had really talked to me,” Farino said. “Hansen said he didn’t know who I was until CCS contacted him.”
The Vikings accumulated a league record of 8-1 before Farino was approached by Hansen at the start of the lacrosse team’s afternoon practice on Thursday, April 19. This was their first encounter.
“He asked our coach if he could see me,” Farino said. “He was like, ‘Who is Julia Farino?’ and he pulled me aside, asked me about paperwork and told me I was ineligible. I felt like I was left in the dark because I felt that there was something that had to be done that wasn’t.”
CCS had contacted Hansen to inform him of their discovery of a violation of CIF bylaw 206, which requires transfer students to request eligibility from CCS after transferring. Farino claims she was unaware of this bylaw, and as a result never completed any such form.
“I was told at M-A that because my whole family was moving [to Palo Alto], we didn’t have to do [the CCS form] and everything was fine,” Farino said.
The consequence of Farino’s unnoticed ineligibility provoked a response from the athletes and parents of the girls’ lacrosse community. A meeting with athletes, players and members of the administration, including Winston, was called to discuss how this circumstance could be prevented in the future.
According to N. Kelty, “Mr. Winston just took [the situation] as a leader and said it was no one’s fault and there was no one person to blame it on.”
Last spring was not the first time issues caused by transfer student eligibility have plagued Paly sports. Five years ago, the Paly boys’ basketball team was forced to vacate 15 league games in which Australian forward Ed Hall (‘08) participated due to a violation of CIF bylaw 204, which stipulates that an athlete is ineligible if he or she has already completed eight semesters of high school. The forfeitures, 11 of which were wins, dropped the team’s record from 16-8 (8-4 in league) to 5-19 (4-8 in league) and dashed its playoff hopes.
Hall’s residency requirements were fulfilled when he moved from Australia to Palo Alto before the start of the school year, preventing a violation of bylaw 206, the same bylaw that was violated in the case of the girls’ lacrosse team. Even so, it was not discovered that he had violated bylaw 204 until the season was nearly over.
“From what I understand, his transcripts were not looked at when he came here, and had they been looked at we would have known there was a problem,” former coach and current physical education teacher Peter Diepenbrock said. “I think that was one thing that was said at the time: what they [the administration and athletic department] were going to change was that when kids transfer in there would be a more thorough process.”
In response, then-principal Jacqueline McEvoy issued the following press release outlining the violation and promising that the administration and athletic department would be more careful regarding student-athlete eligibility moving forward.
“In the future, no student transferring into Palo Alto will be allowed to participate in our athletic program until his or her athletic eligibility has been thoroughly investigated and officially confirmed.”
McEvoy resigned from her position as principal at the end of the 2009-2010 school year and her commitment lasted only two more years. As evidenced by the lacrosse episode four years later, it was easier promised than fulfilled and demonstrates that the administration cannot be expected to be solely relied on to prevent errors from taking place.
Now, following a couple of missteps, Winston says he is determined to make the administration and athletic department more accountable for athletes and teams.
“There is no doubt we have to be thorough about everything, and we cannot make assumptions about what happened the year before,” Winston said. “Some people will say part of the responsibility is on the student-athlete. I do believe that, but it can’t be on the student-athlete if we don’t do our part. To me this means we have to be on our top game all the time, and it’s not easy, it’s hard, but that’s too bad. We have to be on our game.”
Following the lacrosse episode, the administration and athletic department responded to the athlete and parental concerns through revision of the transfer-student process. A new procedure has been developed which helps fulfil the duties Winston believes the administration has regarding transfer students.
“We created a form last spring that the counselors fill out when a new student enrolls at Paly,” assistant principal Kathie Laurence wrote in an email to The Viking. “The student is informed that they must speak with the athletic director and the form is given to the athletic director who works with the new student to determine eligibility.”
As evidenced by Biffar’s realization regarding her own eligibility, athlete involvement in understanding CIF and CCS requirements may be a vital step in a new process. N. Kelty believes that all athletes should try to be as aware of their own eligibility as Biffar was.
“Mr. Hansen could make a sheet with the key rules that every player needs to know about CCS and SCVAL,” N. Kelty said. “All it needs to have is the given rules that are specific to each sport, letting them know what they can and can’t do. Rules that every player should know.”
Laurence endorses this idea and plans to support the movement towards spreading general athlete awareness of CCS and CIF rulings.
“We have an Athletic Handbook, and we are in the process of updating it,” Laurence wrote. “We hope to include it with the Student Handbook next year. One of the athletes suggested a one page sheet with things to watch for as an athlete that might affect eligibility. I thought it was a terrific idea, and we will work on that for next fall.”
For student-athletes, knowledge of CCS and CIF guidelines is one way to help prevent recurrences of the past soccer, lacrosse and basketball issues.
With over 20 varsity athletic teams at Paly to account for, it is impossible for responsibility to rest on the shoulders of a single party. As evidenced by the mere number of seasons that have been forfeited due to CCS violations, mishaps occur when these parties do not act in accordance with each other. Questions about what specific actions should be taken, where they should come from and how they will integrate the individual needs of each team in order to prevent future mishaps is a matter yet to be determined.
“I think it’s an honor to play, particularly at Paly, because we are pretty concentrated in high performance athletes, and we [the administration] have the responsibility to support them in every way,” Winston said. “I don’t think we have to define any goals, because diligence–being thorough–is clear. While I can understand that people would be interested in goals, I don’t think they’re necessary. We just have to do our job. We just have to do it, period.”