Is penalizing student-athletes for an error made by a school district and its coaches sending home the right message? It doesn’t seem so in the case of Southampton High School’s girls varsity basketball team.
Whether longtime head coach Richard “Juni” Wingfield knew he was exceeding the 20-game regular-season limit or not, it seems unjust, especially to the seniors, to punish those who do not know every rule in the book, and who don’t make the schedules.
What seems even more biased is the fact that in Suffolk County history, this issue has occurred three times in the past decade — twice in 2011 with the Babylon and Sayville girls lacrosse teams, and in 2017 with the Center Moriches girls soccer team — and all three teams were allowed to compete in the Section XI tournament. For the district to be denied on back-to-back appeals when the ruling had been previously overturned on the second appeal in 2017 is noticeably unorthodox. Even remarkably so for the Southampton’s second appeal to be denied after athletic director Darren Phillips came prepared to argue his case.
To be excluded from competing in the postseason because of one extra nonleague game that does not affect playoff seeding also seems excessive — especially considering that this could easily be avoided in this day and age.
Why doesn’t Section XI have a system by which coaches input their schedules and are hit with responses saying a game could not be submitted because he or she has exceeded the limit? Would that not be a safe and simple solution to ensure the rules are followed? If it results in protecting student-athletes and ensuring they get a chance to play what may be one last time in a high school uniform, it seems so blatantly obvious it’s the easy choice.
Even so, if Suffolk County were to forgo installing new software, why not maintain what was once its previous position on the matter when it was on the losing side of a New York State Public High School Athletic Association executive director Robert Zayas’s 26-20 loss, to fine the school and suspend the coach instead of punishing the students. It seems since that time feelings have changed on the rule and its punishment.
For the school district personnel to have to tell their kids — and yes, kids — that they could not play for what they’d worked so hard for months and seasons for because of a mistake that wasn’t their doing must have been exactly as the pair put it: “devastating.” The shock, anger, and sadness felt here should really hammer home that something needs to be done about this punishment. It just doesn’t fit the crime.