Trevor Turiff’s goal was to be standing on top of the WIAA state podium at the Kohl Center in Madison later this month being announced as a champion.
The De Pere senior never envisioned he would be standing before the WIAA Board of Control in Stevens Point pleading for his opportunity just to be able to compete again in an appeal after a circumstance out of his control made him ineligible.
That was the harsh reality Turriff and his teammates faced on Friday morning when the De Pere School District’s appeal to reinstate the eligibility of eight wrestlers for individual sectionals was denied.
Although the senior captain won’t get the chance to compete for a return trip to state this year, the character and poise Turriff and his teammates showed in handling a difficult situation had championship material written all over it.
“They were well spoken and respectful,” De Pere athletic director Jeff Byczek said about the school’s wrestlers.
“I think anyone from De Pere would have been proud to say they were a Redbird today.”
De Pere had eight of its 10 sectional qualifiers ruled ineligible on Thursday due to a review showing they had exceeded a schedule limit during the regular season.
The ineligible wrestlers are freshman Sam Bruss (106 pounds), junior George Lopez (113), freshman Andrew Lopez (120), junior Austin Esser (126), junior Max Bruss (132) junior Trevor Van Oss (138), Turriff (160) and sophomore Charlie Hooyman (182).
De Pere has two wrestlers that didn’t exceed the 14-meet limit during the regular season and are eligible to compete at Saturday’s sectional. They are sophomore Tommy Kratz (170) and senior Travis Lueck (195).
But Kratz and Lueck are both choosing not compete in a show of unity for their team.
“Tommy Kratz and senior Travis Lueck have made a heroic act by not wrestling (Saturday) because they won’t go on without us,” Turriff said. “Travis pleaded to the WIAA that his mistake for missing weight one tournament ended up rewarding him even though he screwed up and his teammates didn’t. Travis is a stand up guy.”
Needless to say, it was a difficult ruling for De Pere to take in on Friday that abruptly ended one of its most successful seasons in program history.
Perhaps nobody feels worse about what transpired than Byczek and De Pere wrestling coach Matt Kincade.
“As the head coach of this program, it is my responsibility to step up and take 100 percent of the blame for this error,” Kincade said. “I voiced that numerous times to the WIAA for them to punish me. I offered suspension. I even offered resignation. This is on me, and they should have not punished the kids this way. This punishment does not fit this crime. This was an error. We have to know better as coaches. I have to know better.”
Byczek said, “The bottom line is I’m responsible for the schedules. I’m responsible for knowing what the (meet) limits are and aren’t and what the ins and outs of the rules are. It’s not the same as counting 22 basketball games, but the rule is the rule and I missed it.”
Other teams in different sports have been ruled ineligible due to violating WIAA guidelines regarding schedules in the past.
For example, the Westosha Central girls volleyball team was ineligible for the playoffs last year due to a scheduling error.
Locally, the Pulaski softball team was ruled ineligible for the postseason in 2010 due to a scheduling error.
“We have to be uniform and consistent, and we have to treat all of our members the same,” WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki said. “Their athletes are under their control. It’s not pleasant when adults make mistakes. But our schools are responsible for their programs.
“We don’t relish this. We don’t feel good about going in and taking kids out at all. That’s not good at all. But there are other kids who do move on, too.”
The fifth-place individual for a weight class where a wrestler is ineligible will advance to Saturday’s Division 1 sectional at Kaukauna in place of the ineligible De Pere wrestlers. The top four wrestlers in Division 1 regionals advance to sectionals.
There will be six fifth-place wrestlers from last Saturday’s Green Bay Preble regional that will compete at sectionals. Those wrestlers are West De Pere’s Trent Francois (106), Green Bay Preble’s Mitch Kopish (113), Pulaski’s Brady Sorenson (120), Pulaski’s Brock Gracyalny (138) and Bay Port’s Jack Ehrfurth (182).
The 160-pound weight class that Turriff was a part of will feature a bye since Shawano’s Sam Tourtilott, the fifth-place wrestler at the regional, has an injury, according to Shawano coach Mike Homan.
Turriff was 39-2 and ranked No. 3 in his weight class by WIWrestling.com’s Division 1 state rankings. He was hoping to become De Pere’s second state champion in program history.
The 132-pound weight class will also have a bye. West De Pere’s Drew Willems was the fifth-place finisher at regionals but will not compete on Saturday.
How did this ruling ultimately take three weeks to sort out by the WIAA after it was first self-reported by Byczek on the morning of Feb. 3?
The answer is a combination of unintended oversight that was made in the initial review on Feb. 3 by WIAA officials and other member schools inquiring this week that the WIAA review the De Pere wrestlers’ eligibility again.
De Pere mistakenly counted a Fox River Classic Conference double dual against Green Bay Preble and Ashwaubenon as one meet instead of two towards the allotted 14 meets teams are allowed during the regular season per the WIAA guidelines.
De Pere ended the regular season with eight duals and seven multi-team meets on its varsity schedule, putting it over the limit.
“The WIAA tried to do everything in their power to find a way to make us eligible,” Kincade said.
“We provided them the information from (TrackWrestling.com), but we also provided them internal documentation. It had everything in it.”
WIAA officials reviewed information on Feb. 3 regarding the team’s schedule in an attempt to figure out a way De Pere could still be within in the rules and eligible for regionals.
De Pere’s multi-team meet on Jan. 28 at the Dirk Sorenson Door County Classic was listed as a junior varsity event on TrackWrestling.com even though it was its varsity lineup that participated in it.
That identification put De Pere at eight varsity duals and six multi-team meets, so it was within the 14-meet limit.
However, many of the wrestlers still had competed in 15 events overall, which would make them ineligible regardless of the how the team events were listed between varsity and junior varsity.
The WIAA didn’t initially find that in the review on Feb. 3 because TrackWrestling.com’s listing for the individual matches of wrestlers didn’t list the Sauk Prairie Invite on Jan. 10, leading it to believe the wrestlers had competed in only 14 events.
“We didn’t have enough information to declare them ineligible, so we didn’t hold them out of the regionals,” Labecki said about the initial review on Feb. 3.
“When our staff went through the kids individually, two of the events did not have all of the kids listed. That’s where they got a little bit of a reprieve because it appeared they were within the rules individually.”
The information that was listed incorrectly or missing on Trackwrestling.com was available in the documents Byczek sent to the WIAA, according to Kincade.
De Pere superintendent Ben Villarruel said the school district did try to appeal the decision from the WIAA at Brown County Circuit Court, but that motion was denied.
Although Friday’s events was a tough pill to swallow, Turriff and his teammates walked away with their heads held high, showing maturity beyond their years.
“I first want to thank all of my team for being one of the greatest sources of support ever. We became a family and with ties that will never be broken,” said Turriff, who was hoping to be able to wrestle in front of NCAA Division I coaches at state.
“I want to thank Kincade for caring for us, for driving us to be great, for turning this whole program into something when it was nothing and then knowing how much of an influence he was on the program going up in front of the WIAA board and urging them to fire him before punishing the kids.
“Lastly, I want to thank all the higher powers that pleaded for our side of the case. Wrestling icons, like Ben Askren, Tommy Rowland, Jake Herbert, Tervel Dlagnev, and the best wrestler of all time, who called the WIAA personally, Dan Gable.”
– firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @andrewpekarek.