By Ben Johnson
Tahlequah Daily Press
Tahlequah-Sequoyah enjoyed plenty of hugging, high-fiving, picture-taking and trophy-hoisting on May 1 in Oklahoma City.
But with one strict ruling from the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association on Thursday, all that is a voided memory.
The OSSAA vacated Sequoyah’s Class 5A slowpitch softball state title after determining a varsity athlete was ruled to be ineligible.
Once again, Sequoyah is a program without a softball championship.
“We are deeply saddened by this turn of events and the sanctions administered by the OSSAA,” Leroy Qualls, superintendent of Sequoyah Schools, said in a statement released by the school. “We are committed to moving forward, complying with the state’s governing body and having the opportunity to compete for more state championships in the future. We also want to make it clear that neither the student not her parents were knowingly involved in any violations.”
Sequoyah’s forfeiture of its softball title is the first in slowpitch history, since the sport was established by the OSSAA in 1983. It is also the first time a school has had to give up its crown since Verdigris was forced to forfeit its girls soccer championships in 2009 and 2010.
In addition to losing its softball title, Sequoyah — who beat Morris 6-3 in the Class 5A slowpitch title game — must also forfeit all of its victories in fastpitch softball and girls basketball in 2011-2012. Sequoyah has also been placed on warning for one year in all sports.
“We didn’t do it, the rules led to a forfeiture of contests,” Ed Sheakley, executive director of the OSSAA, said in a phone interview with the Tahlequah Daily Press on Thursday afternoon.
The release from Sequoyah did not specify which player was ruled ineligible. However, earlier this month, Sequoyah junior Kelsey Leach was denied a retroactive hardship waiver, making her ineligible to compete in varsity competitions, dating back to her freshman year.
A source also confirmed to the Tahlequah Daily Press that Megan Towie, another member of last year’s championship team, has been ruled ineligible. Towie played in fastpitch games for Sequoyah earlier this fall before sitting out recent contests.
According to OSSAA guidelines, the athlete ruled ineligible would have been required to sit out from varsity games her freshman year, or apply for a hardship waiver. Yet, the OSSAA determined that in this case, the eligibility issue was recognized by Sequoyah officials in the spring of 2011.
Since uncovering the eligibility issues, Sheakley said Sequoyah administrators have been cooperative 100 percent of the way.
“It is a situation that I would like to commend the administration at Sequoyah,” Sheakley said. “They gave full, undivided cooperation in helping to figure out this lady’s participation.”
Neil Morton, the executive director of education services for the Cherokee Nation, said the school’s new administration will be open and forthcoming with the OSSAA in the future.
“We are trying to establish a trust relationship with the OSSAA,” Morton said in a statement. “This is for the benefit of our students so they can compete in and enjoy local, regional and state high school athletic opportunities.”