, Muskogee, OK

October 26, 2012

COLUMN: Legal strategy trumps game strategy at Sequoyah

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— It’s been Camp Secret around Sequoyah High School this week.

Legal action and the strategies involved typically cause that to happen.

Sadly, the only strategies that should be on the minds of Indians coaches and players are things like how to stop Hilldale’s Jamaul Cullom, the Hornets’ leading rusher and one of the top tacklers. Instead, if there’s football strategy at all, it’s double-duty for a staff minus head coach Brent Scott who have to come up with two game plans for Cullom, one with a few missing parts, the other at full strength.

Today’s hearing in Cherokee County District Court holds in its hands the immediate future of eight Sequoyah players. Scott’s shot at returning is a bit more clear. He won’t be on the sideline to talk strategy with his quarterback son, Brayden, even should Brayden get released through the legal wranglings.

This all comes after the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association found that players took part in individual camps where their expenses are paid for by the “school, by school personnel or by any booster group, organization with the school or by any non-family member.”

The head coach should know about this, and if not the athletic director. Brent Scott has been around since the first indications of this practice were performed in 2009. The current athletic director, Marcus Crittenden, has been on the job for a few months after replacing Larry Grigg. From the comments that have come from the Cherokee Nation this week, Scott is the one being thrown under the bus. Not Grigg and not Crittenden.

Certainly the head football coach should be aware of the rules. But at Sequoyah, there seems to be considerable confusion regarding the rules. Are they the first? No, and they won’t be the last. Ironically, all over the state, those who are to follow the rules are educators as well as coaches. No matter the understandings, there’s got to be something wrong with that picture.

Eligibility issues that weren’t checked thoroughly led to the Lady Indians’ slowpitch team vacating its state championship in the spring.  Parents, you too ought to be up on the rules.

Football may not be the last sport to get hit.  The school continues to work with the OSSAA on what amounts to an audit of every athlete in the school.

The ultimate losers in this are kids who played the games, won the games, and celebrated the accomplishments. Even if the football team gets back to full numbers today, a Nov. 7 appeal of the OSSAA ruling may knock them out of the playoffs.

Obviously, Hilldale would just as soon win this game on the field rather than lose and get the title should the ruling be upheld. Muskogee experienced a similar fate when in 2008, Jenks forfeited a district title and a victory over the second-place Roughers due to an illegal move-in named Jarrett Lake, an OU recruit. Problem was, this was done the following fall. Muskogee didn’t benefit from it, and never got the district trophy — then-MHS head coach Matt Hennesy didn’t want it anyway. I know, I asked him. That’s the way competitors are — players or coaches. The battle isn’t in a board or court room.

But responsibilities are, and that starts in an athletic or school board room.

Leroy Qualls is a great guy. I have a sense of empathy for the mess he’s had to clean up at Sequoyah since coming on board as superintendent in July. This isn’t his fault, but there’s a line of people that are if this has been going on since 2009. Here’s hoping he gets on top of it and appropriate measures are taken to make sure no kid suffers from those mistakes again.

We’d like to know how the kids are handling it, or how acting head coach Shane Richardson, the Indians’ defensive coordinator under Scott, is handling it. Richardson had to get clearance through the Nation’s media liaison, Tera Shows. We couldn’t reach Shows, so no conversation was had.

Clearly, all hands on board are hushed, and we figure any postgame conversation may be like going through White House red tape.

It’s what legal hands do, they cover up mouths.

It’s all just a shame, for those kids, that a week to remember has become a week to perhaps forget.

All because of the grownups.

Sounds like a typical little league fiasco. The main difference, these aren’t volunteers in charge.