Southampton Fighting For Playoff Spot

Southampton’s girls basketball team has been denied a playoff spot due to competing in too many games this season.

According to Section XI, the Mariners, which finished 13-8 overall with a 10-6 League VII record, took part in one more than the 20 maximum games allowed during the regular season.

Southampton athletic director Darren Phillips and head coach Richard “Juni” Wingfield appealed the decision February 5 to the Section XI appeals committee, which is made up of five athletic directors from across Suffolk County, but were denied. The school district made another attempt on Tuesday, February 11, results of which are not yet available. If denied again, the district could take up the issue with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, but by that time, playoffs are already scheduled to start. Phillips also does not believe that the state would reverse its own rule.

Senior Ishanti Gumbs.

“I think it would fall on deaf ears,” he said. “But it’s not even about the rule, it’s about the penalty.”

He doesn’t see how the punishment fits the crime, and he’s hoping this appeal will open the eyes of athletic directors and section representatives across the state that something needs to change.

“To penalize the kids is unfair,” Phillips said. “I understand they want everyone to play the same number of games, but even with a violation like this it doesn’t impact playoffs — the team’s win-loss record in the league remains the same. It was an honest mistake.”

One of Southampton’s nonleague games was a late addition against Rocky Point. That district had hired Reagan Lynch, a former Amateur Athletic Union player of Wingfield’s, who was scrambling to secure some games, so Wingfield decided to help.

“They don’t understand why they have to be punished by such a rigorous discipline policy for a mistake that coach made,” Wingfield said. “The girls are broken.”

Those like Caraline Oakley, who was on last year’s team that missed the playoffs by one win, are shattered to make the postseason this time around only to be denied the opportunity to compete. Her parents sent a letter to the New York Public High School Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports at the state level, expressing disappointment over the rule.

“I was shocked. It’s not fair at all,” senior Ishanti Gumbs said. “Not only do we not know every rule there is to make sure that doesn’t happen, but we don’t make the schedules. And being one single game over the limit was the worst part, because it’s something so small but so big. We tried to forfeit a game so that we could try and work with the section, and it still didn’t work. All of our hard work just went down the drain.”

The Mariners couldn’t forfeit a game because by the time they were notified by Section XI about the issue the girls only had league games left to play.

For this appeal though, Phillips said he’ll be more prepared to fight for his student-athletes. That’s because this limit has been exceeded three times in Suffolk County history. In 2011, the Babylon and Sayville girls lacrosse teams appealed the exclusion from the postseason, and the teams were allowed to play, but their coaches were suspended immediately. In 2017, Center Moriches’ girls soccer team was denied its first appeal, which was overturned. The girls were told they could compete at the county level, but if they made it further than that, it would be deemed ineligible.

This rule has been a cause for concern that even the executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Robert Zayas, proposed the coach be suspended and the school fined instead of punishing student-athletes. His measure was voted down 26-20.

“I’m just shocked that adults in education would not approve that, and would rather see kids penalized than the coach. It just blows my mind,” Phillips said. “A safety net was supposed to be put in place after the Center Moriches incident. There should be an alert, a block, a message saying, ‘Sorry, you exceeded the maximum amount of games’ when submitting a schedule. I’m not blaming section, it’s our responsibility to catch it first, but I feel it’s somewhat culpable.”

At the bare minimum with the appeal, the athletic director is hoping his girls get the chance to play, and that this will send a message to the state that something needs to be done.

“I hope they’ll find it in their hearts that this is the right thing to do, on all levels,” Phillips said. “It’s heartbreaking. I know coach was devastated. I was devastated talking to the girls. It’s just so unfair to penalize these kids for our mistake. It was human error. A correctable mistake.”

Check back for results from Southampton Union Free School District’s latest appeal.

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