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Rules tough, but need abiding

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The Oahu Interscholastic Association was harsh in stripping Kahuku High School’s undefeated football team of its entrance to the state playoffs, but neglecting to do so would have set a terrible precedent. Schools must know that failure to abide by the rules, through neglect or on purpose, will result in disqualification.

The decision made late Thursday forced Kahuku to forfeit all 10 games in which it used an ineligible player, thus canceling its game scheduled Friday evening at Aloha Stadium against Mililani for the Red Division championship; it also ended No. 1-ranked Kahuku’s hopes for the state title, to be decided Nov. 26.

According to the association’s bylaws, it had no wiggle room. It could have either declared the season’s games to be forfeited … or not. Unfortunately, the forfeiture has been imposed because of what Eric Seitz, the attorney for Kahuku players and parents, called a "clerical error."

In a lawsuit filed yesterday against the association aimed at lifting the forfeiture, Seitz maintained that one of the team’s players, a lineman, "briefly had enrolled" at Kahuku in the ninth grade, was transferred back to the eighth grade, where he completed the school year. The next year he "re-enrolled" in the ninth grade.

The bylaws require that students may participate in sports during "only four consecutive years of eligibility." This year, record keepers at the school should have identified him as "a fifth year senior" but failed to do so. Determining him to be eligible to play in sports was erroneous but, the suit contends, "was in no way deliberate or intentional." The suit says Kahuku’s principal, Donna Lindsey, notified the association after learning of the violation from an anonymous call.

Lindsey immediately appealed the unanimous decision by the six principals who comprise the association’s rules committee to order the forfeitures. They upheld their decision after reviewing the case Friday morning, according to an OIA news release, rejecting Lindsey’s request that the issue be reviewed by principals of all OIA high schools.

The Kahuku case appears to be unprecedented under these particular circumstances. Moanalua and Roosevelt high schools were forced to forfeit games after teachers reported that players suited up although they fell short of academic standards set by the Board of Education.

Should the bylaws be changed to give the association some flexibility in such cases? Doing so would necessitate extensive procedures to determine if breaking the rules was deliberate or not — an unwieldy and muddled proposition.

"Each of the schools knows the rules and (they) have procedures and policies for constantly and continually checking and monitoring student athletes’ eligibility," the OIA news release pointed out. As it added, "the rules are the rules."

Whether the Kahuku players prevail in court remains to be seen; a hearing was scheduled for this morning. But what’s transpired over the weekend — and continues to unfold — is turning into a teachable moment for Kahuku players and, really, other students statewide. The Kahuku community has rallied in protest, passionately but civilly, against the OIA decision and is seeking recourse via the courts against a perceived injustice. They are wearing their hearts on their sleeves but admirably, keeping their heads cool and collected.

"The rules" can be difficult to always obey and understand — and sometimes, challenging the status quo works — but in the world outside of football, they do indeed come with real life.

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