Judge sides with WIAA after Amherst pursues legal action in forfeited season

With the ruling the team must forfeit the season and will not play in the playoffs
Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 8:17 AM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - Portage County Circuit Court Judge Michael Zell sided with the WIAA on Monday and won’t grant a temporary restraining order filed by the Amherst High School against the WIAA.

“It is a difficult decision for everyone. But looking at the law that the court must apply here today, it’s the only conclusion the court can reach,” said Judge Zell.

The legal action comes after the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled the football team must forfeit its six wins this season related to an ineligible player. The WIAA said a student-athlete participated in high school athletics for the 5th year, which is a violation of the rules.

Heading into today, the school knew it wasn’t going to be an easy case.

“We knew we had a tough, uphill battle walking into the courtroom today,” says Mike Richie, District Administrator. “Just like we did with the board of control appeal process, we knew it was going to be tough. What we’re simply asking for is to use common sense.”

Amherst argued that “common sense” was the idea that the ineligible player did not contribute to the victories of each game.

“To take away the three games that we won handily, shutouts, and to make us forfeit the entire season is way above and beyond,” says Richie. “We call it the death penalty and that’s exactly what happened.”

Judge Zell called the situation unfortunate and troubling. The Falcons are ineligible for the playoffs due to the violation.

On Oct. 10 the WIAA received an anonymous tip that one of Amherst’s players had played high school football when he was in 8th grade. WIAA rules state that players only have 8 semesters of eligibility. On Oct. 13, the WIAA Board of Control ruled by a 9-0 vote to uphold its decision that the Amherst High School football program must forfeit all six of its 2022 season victories leaving the team 0-8 and ineligible for the playoffs.

“I don’t know why we are in this situation,” Zell explained in court Monday before issuing his decision.

Zell said there is a member agreement and the member schools have to abide by those rules. He said while Amherst wanted this case to be an ‘us vs. them’ situation, he said this is really an ‘us vs. us’ situation. He said it is up to the member schools to police the rules as the WIAA does not have the staff to do that.

Zell said the court must apply the law when making a ruling, but called it a sad day for the players in the courtroom, the village of Amherst, and likely the WIAA.

“Appeals like this to the court to override decisions of the WIAA are an invitation to a chaotic, interscholastic sports league where courts would have to go back and review as is essentially being requested here, the details of each and every game put itself in the position of super referee without the benefit of instant replay,” said Zell.

With the ruling in place, Amherst will require the athletic director to do a thorough background check for any transfer students.

All to ensure an issue like this never happens again.

“Every athletic director’s gonna have to go back and question ‘did you play high school sports prior to your ninth-grade year in high school’,” says Richie. “Or did you attend two years of your freshman year of high school or any year?”

After the news of the incident, Amherst students and family created a go-fund-me to help the school pay for the cases’ legal fees.

For the school, they see that as a sign of how much their community cares.

“The community just stepped up,” says Richie. “There’s over $20,000-$21,000 in that account within a matter of days. That tells you what kind of community we live in, what our student-athletes mean to this community.”

Amherst says no tax dollars will be used towards the legal fees, instead being covered by GoFundMe.

Excess money will be directed toward the ‘Falcon Pride Project’.