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Undefeated Edgewood loses in court; out of playoffs

A Dane Co. judge ruled against its request for a temporary restraining order
(NBC15)
Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 9:30 AM CDT|Updated: Nov. 5, 2021 at 7:43 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Dane Co. judge handed the Edgewood High School football team its first loss this year, rejecting a request for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed the Crusaders to take the field this weekend.

On Friday, Dane Co. Judge Jacob Frost rejected the school’s petition, explaining that one of the requirements for a restraining order is the court would have to determine that the plaintiffs would be likely to win at trial and he does not believe that they will.

He detailed the reasons he expected Edgewood’s request that the court issue a declaratory judgement that Fane was eligible would fail, recounting earlier testimony about Fane’s transfer and that the school had never requested a waiver despite knowing he would be entering his fifth year. Additionally, the judge turned away the due process claims by Edgewood, saying that he does not foresee how the school could prove the WIAA’s actions were arbitrary and capricious.

“Unfortunately its a bed that Edgewood made and that it got pointed out during the tournament that’s unfortunate,” Frost said while issuing his decision. “I’m not happy that a bunch of high school students who had nothing to do with this are in the situation they’re in. I don’t blame any of them...its certainly not their fault.”

The school made its case Friday as part of a quest to overturn a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association ruling that knocked its football team out of the state playoffs and erased all of the team’s wins this season. The hearing was the opening salvo in a lawsuit filed by the school that also seeks to restore the undefeated Crusaders regular season wins as well as its two post-season wins. Edgewood’s most recent victory came in a 40-0 rout against Kewaskum, which will now advance to play Columbus in the next round.

Earlier this week, the WIAA originally ruled that the school obtained a waiver for a player last year allowing him to play varsity sports immediately after transferring from a school in Texas, but they did not get one that granted an extra year of eligibility to cover this year.

In a statement following the judge’s ruling, school president Mike Elliott described the matter as a “technical error - raised nine months after the fact and that the team had no part in,” saying that it should have been handled earlier and some other way. Elliott added, “our team did not deserve this penalty. Our school community did not deserve the scrutiny this accusation has caused.”

He described the verdict as a “harsh and heartbreaking outcome” and urged the WIAA to address the transfer guidelines in a way to avoid a repeat occurrence.

At the heart of the dispute is the eligibility status of wide receiver Cam Fane, whom the school emphasized did not make any mistakes that led to the WIAA decision. Elliott has described the dispute as “purely administrative.” He continued by saying the Edgewood community is “immensely proud not only of how Cam has handled himself during this very difficult situation, but of all the hard work he has done and the commitment he has made to Edgewood, his teammates and the entire school community.”

Seeking to convince the Judge Jacob Frost that Edgewood’s case had enough merit to warrant him issuing the injunction allowing the Crusaders to take the field Sunday, the school’s attorney summed up his case as hinging on how the WIAA rulebook lists waiver rules while arguing the school was not afforded due process. Attorney Naikang Tsao pointed out that the waiver given to Fane exempting him from having to sit for a season after transferring is covered alongside one allowing for an extra year of playing time in the handbook, indicating that the initial approval should have covered both issues.

He peppered former WIAA Deputy Director Wade Labecki during an opening questioning period on what he did or should have gleaned from the transfer documentation, contending that it would have shown WIAA administrators how many semesters Fane had played.

Tsao’s additional argument – that the school was deprived of due process – focused more on its playoff situation, which was the purpose of Friday’s hearing anyway, than it did for restoring the Cruasders’ nine regular season wins. He stated that WIAA regulations that the organization’s decisions on game forfeiture during tournaments could not be appealed meant that Edgewood never had a chance to be heard. He added that by cc’ing Kewaskum in the email announcing the initial ruling, Edgewood was further denied a chance to respond.

WIAA’s attorney Brent Jacobsen took exception to Tsao’s claims, responding that the rules prohibiting appeals are written into the code that Edgewood and more than 500 other schools in the high school association have agreed to. He explained it exists because tournaments typically move at a pace where an appellate board may not have time to confer before the next game. Jacobsen noted that the WIAA did rush to do so in this case. A statement released Thursday after the WIAA rejected Edgewood’s appeal previewed Jacobsen’s argument. In it, the organization asserted the school was afforded due process and emphasized its role to enforce the rules as written – and argument it reiterated in court.

Judge Frost also questioned the due process claim, telling Tsao while Edgewood was claiming its due process was violated, they did not detail what due process should have looked like.

“We recognize that this is an unfortunate situation for all involved, and we share in everyone’s disappointment with the circumstances; however, the WIAA has the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the rules of education-based athletics as established by the member schools,” the WIAA stated.

Following Labecki’s testimony and after hearing arguments from both attorneys pushed the hearing to its scheduled end, Frost opted to send it into overtime Friday afternoon to hear testimony from Edgewood’s longtime athletics director Chris Zwettler, who admitted an “oversight on our part” led to the fifth-year eligibility form not being completed. He added that he never filed one of the forms in his 33 years at the school.

Zwettler told the court he had no intention of deceiving the WIAA. He explained that when the school received the approval for the transfer waiver, which stated that Fane was considered eligible from a residence and transfer basis, he took it as meaning it was unrestricted eligibility. “I thought we were greenlighted. I thought we were good to go,” he added.

Asked why they did not include a fifth-year waiver when filing, Zwettler claimed with Fane being enrolled as a sixth semester junior he started to consider him such and did not think to do it.

“In hindsight, if I really felt in my heart I needed to fill out these consecutive semester forms, I would have done it in a heartbeat. It would have taken five minutes to do and I would have submitted it to the WIAA,” he said.

Zwettler told the court he did not know if Fane was a good football player at the time of the filing, and denied knowing then which sports he played. Jacobson noted that in discussing his transfer with the school Fane wrote specifically about his desire to play football this semester.

Edgewood files complaint

The complaint, filed Thursday in the Dane County Circuit Court, sought not only to allow Edgewood back into the playoffs, but it also demanded the WIAA restore all nine regular season wins and its two playoff victories, Elliot said.

The complaint states that Fane went to high school as a freshman at Madison West in the fall of 2017, then transferred to Juan Seguin High School in Arlington, Texas to live with family. He attended that school for his second semester of his freshman year, as well as his second year, third year and first semester of his fourth year. Fane moved back to Wisconsin when he turned 18 years old and enrolled at Edgewood in January of 2021, at which point the complaint states he had completed seven semesters of high school between Madison West and Seguin.

Fane enrolled in Edgewood in its graduating class of 2022 as a second semester junior, classifying him academically as completing five high school semesters and entering Edgewood in his sixth semester.

The complaint continues, saying Edgewood decided to enroll Fane as a second semester junior because he wanted to improve his academic standing to get into a good college and he needed more than one semester to complete the religious education and community service hour requirement all Edgewood students must complete before graduation.

In a complaint, it summarizes the years Fane played high school football and what schools he attended by year:

Year of High SchoolSchool YearFall Semester SchoolSpring Semester SchoolFootball
12017-18Madison WestSeguinYes
22018-19Seguin (TX)Seguin (TX)Yes
32019-20Seguin (TX)Seguin (TX)Yes
42020-21Seguin (TX)EdgewoodNo
52021-22EdgewoodEdgewoodYes
The season is over for Edgewood High School’s undefeated football team.

Edgewood Athletic Director Chris Zwettler worked with Edgewood staff to submit an application to the WIAA on Fane’s behalf to waive the residence and transfer requirement that would make a student ineligible to play sports for one calendar year, unless the transfer is due to the student’s parents relocating.

A student can also claim “extenuating circumstances” which WIAA Rules of Eligibility defined as an “unforeseeable, unavoidable and uncorrectable act, condition or event which result in severe burden and/or involuntary change, that mitigates the rule.”

Zwettler provided multiple documents to Deputy Director of WIAA Wade Labecki, who no longer works at the WIAA, to prove extenuating circumstances. These documents include a letter from Zwettler urging the eligibility waiver be allowed, a letter from Fane about how his home life had impacted his academic career and a completed residence/transfer waiver request checklist from the WIAA.

Labecki informed Edgewood that the WIAA had granted the waiver of residence and transfer requirement on March 11, according to the complaint saying it made its decision based on “the documented extenuating circumstances you have made us aware of.” This made Fane immediately eligible for athletics.

Beyond announcing the lawsuit, Elliot used the statement to promise the school would release more information about the WIAA’s controversial decision that, he said, would “dispel some of the unfortunate rumors that have circulated.”

On Nov. 1, which was the first business day after Edgewood had defeated Kewaskum 40-0, WIAA Associate Director Mel Dow informed Edgewood that they had failed to fill out a Fifth Year Waiver form for Fane. This made Fane ineligible, forcing Edgewood to forfeit its record for the season. Edgewood claims there is no reference to needing this form in the WIAA Handbook and appealed on Nov. 2.

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