TOLEDO — More than a year after the fact, Findlay has become the first Three Rivers Athletic Conference football champion — and the Ross football and boys basketball teams have accumulated a couple more wins.
In a joint news conference Thursday morning, Washington Local Schools Superintendent Patrick Hickey and Ohio High School Athletic Association Commissioner Dan Ross announced that Whitmer would vacate all their wins from the 2011 football season and 2011-12 boys basketball season for using an ineligible player.
At issue was senior LeRoy Alexander, now a freshman on the football team at the University of Nebraska. Alexander had transferred to the district from Springfield, and Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Frederick McDonald ordered the school district to allow Alexander to be on the football and boys basketball teams. The OHSAA ruled that he was an improper transfer and thus not eligible, leading to the forfeiture of games by the football team, which went 10-0 to win the inaugural TRAC title and advanced to the Division I state semifinal, and the basketball team, which went 23-3 and was TRAC champions and state runner-up. Ross said the players will be allowed to keep their runner-up medals.
"We disagree, but we will comply," Hickey said.
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The district has also agreed to share the cost of the investigation, paying $50,000 to the OHSAA out of its general fund money. Ross, who couldn't put a dollar amoung on the total cost of the investigation but said it was close to six figures, said there has been no discussion about any tournament revenue in basketball or football going back to the OHSAA. Hickey took pains to point out that it wasn't a fine, and said they paid the money rather than go into a court battle that could cost more.
"I believe a fine indicates wrongdoing," Hickey said. "There's no wrongdoing. There has been a lack of full due diligence, which we have corrected."
The investigation into Washington Local Schools started 17 months ago, with the OHSAA looking into allegations of improper certification for coaches and residency checks by the district. Hickey estimated that 1,000 students a year transfer into the district. Ross said steps have been taken to address those concerns, and the district will not be put on any further probation.
TRAC Commissioner Ken Myers of Fremont said the forfeiture means that Findlay is retroactively the first champion for football, and the Trojans finish as co-champions in boys basketball with St. John's Jesuit and Toledo Central Catholic.
Alexander had four carries for 104 yards against Ross in 2011, with two going for touchdowns in a 58-20 Panthers win. The forfeit might have helped the Little Giants into the football playoffs last year. Ross finished 5-5, but going into its final game against Findlay, could have won and gotten into the playoffs. But coach Derek Kidwell said it was unfortunate to see any athletes work hard and have their accomplishments vacated through no fault of their own.
"Those are the kids you feel sorry for," he said.
Hickey, himself a father of one of the Whitmer basketball players, said that's why the decision wasn't reached lightly.
"These forfeits are extremely painful," he said. "All the kids who weren't involved are being punished, and that's a harsh life lesson."
Alexander scored 11 points against Ross at Whitmer, a 59-43 Panthers win, and didn't play in the game at Ross, a one-point Little Giants loss, because he was on an official visit to the University of Nebraska.
"They had a tremendous season last year," Ross basketball coach Mark Gedeon said of Whitmer. "They were a pretty darn good team."