When students arrived at Arlington High School Thursday, homeroom teachers read them a letter disclosing that eight of the school’s athletic teams would have to forfeit victories because they fielded ineligible players last year.
“You put in 6 out of 7 days to do this, and now there’s no results,” said a frustrated John Lepore, 18, who plays hockey at the school. His team was not among those who had to forfeit.
Students, parents and school officials on Thursday reacted with frustration and anger to the unusual and apparently unprecedented forfeits. School officials say the failure of the athletics department to confirm the eligibility of the students was discovered only this fall after the district’s athletic director was placed on leave for an apparently unrelated matter.
“We’ve never heard of this number of teams in one fell swoop,” said Paul Wetzel, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Thursday. “It seems like it’s a system error at the school, so it led to ineligible players being on multiple teams. That is really unusual.”
Arlington Public Schools announced Wednesday that ineligible players participated on 12 different teams during the 2011-2012 school year, and that as a result eight teams had to forfeit games. Four teams, including the fall 2011 varsity and junior varsity boys soccer teams, the spring 2012 boys varsity tennis team, and the spring girls junior varsity softball team, had to forfeit all of their wins for their season.
The announcement comes more than three months after the school district’s athletic director, Ted Dever, was placed on paid administrative leave amid an ongoing criminal investigation, the details of which have not been made public. This week Dever, through his attorney Rick Grundy, criticized the school district’s move to dismiss him for unspecified performance-related reasons and says claims against Dever are unfounded.
After Dever was placed on administrative leave, according to Arlington Public Schools, Acting Athletic Director Robert DiLoreto learned about possible academic eligibility problems with some student athletes. The school launched an investigation that uncovered the widespread problems.
Dan Colombo, a junior on the varsity football team, called the forfeitures a scandal and a cloud hanging over the school.
“We’re a bit ashamed of the school itself and it reflects on us like we did something wrong,” Colombo said Thursday afternoon.
According to a letter interim Arlington High School Principal Mary Villano sent to parents this week, several students across several sports were academically ineligible and some foreign exchange students also did not have the waivers they needed from the MIAA to play sports.
The letter said when a student is determined to be ineligible, the student, his or her parents or guardians, and the coach must be informed that they are unable to participate in sports.
“Unfortunately, it appears that during 2011-2012 this task was not adequately performed because in several instances grades were not adequately checked or accurate results reported to the principal,” Villano wrote.
Wetzel said Arlington Public Schools must now write a letter to every school in which it must forfeit a game that explains that an ineligible player participated and that they can retroactively adjust the win-loss records of their teams.
Kirsi Allison-Ampe, the chair of the school committee, said it is her understanding that in Arlington the responsibility of checking student eligibility for athletics is delegated to the athletic director. But the school committee chairwoman then said she could not discuss personnel matters.
Allison-Ampe said her fellow committee members were all notified of the forfeitures before the letter was sent out to parents this week, but the committee has not yet had the opportunity to discuss it. She said she has already heard from one parent who expressed disappointment over the forfeitures.
“I personally am disappointed that administrative oversight can cast as shadow on our athletic program, but I’m happy it’s not going to affect individual student records or college applications,” Allison-Ampe said.
She said the School Committee will be discussing the forfeitures at its meeting Thursday, Dec. 20. “We’ll be looking at why it happened and what measures have been taken to prevent it in the future,” she said.