The Timberline High School football program self-reported an eligibility infraction following its win over Yelm last Friday, which the Class 3A South Sound Conference ruled will result in a forfeit.
Timberline officials discovered Monday morning that one of their athletes — who is a two-way starter — was ineligible to play because of an expired physical.
“The internal communication process on the different checks and balances didn’t catch it, so it had to be reported,” said North Thurston Public Schools athletic director Rich Yelenich.
Yelenich said that in keeping with Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules, the 3A SSC governing body ruled Timberline would forfeit the game because the ineligible athlete played a significant role.
The league directed Timberline to conduct an internal review process of how coaches and athletes are notified about player eligibility. It placed Timberline on a one-year probation — specific parameters have not been released — stating that further infractions could result in sanctions beyond the forfeit.
Central Kitsap athletic director Bill Baxter, the league’s president, could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Especially since the league is in its inaugural season, we want to make sure we’re doing things appropriately, and setting our standards here at the outset,” Yelenich said.
Yelenich said he has no reason to believe the infraction is anything but a single incident.
“Everything indicates that this was an isolated situation,” Yelenich said. “Timberline has never had a history — in any of the athletic programs — of being sanctioned for issues of ineligible players. …
“It’s a good wake-up call for us to go in and take a look at the process. Something needs to change so a situation like this doesn’t come up in the future.”
Timberline athletic director Nick Mullen said it was an unintentional oversight. A similar situation caused perennial 2A football powerhouse Archbishop Murphy to lose its perfect season in 2008.
“It was a mistake,” Mullen said. “It slipped through the cracks and it’ll never happen again. The kids are doing awesome, and will embrace the challenge of winning the next three games. It was just a mistake.”
Before the forfeit, Timberline had compiled an undefeated record in the 3A SSC, sharing the top spot with fifth-ranked Peninsula. Following the ruling, Timberline drops to 4-2 (3-1 3A SSC), and is tied with Gig Harbor in second place. The Blazers host the Tides at 7 p.m. Friday at South Sound Stadium.
“The whole team has worked hard to have a victory taken away,” Yelenich said. “Something like this is unfortunate, but there really wasn’t another option.”
Timberline can appeal the ruling. The WIAA handbook states that a school can appeal a forfeiture penalty if the error was inadvertent. The handbook defines an inadvertent error as a “mechanical, electronic or clerical” error that allows an ineligible participant to compete.
It states: “In the event of a valid physical not being on file or an inadvertent error, the school officials may petition the League to have the forfeiture voided. The petitioning school shall have the burden to show the error was not intentional and occurred notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adopted to avoid such an error.”
Yelenich said Timberline does not currently plan to appeal.
“There is an avenue to appeal, and right now I believe the school and the league are exploring that, but a decision on whether to appeal the forfeit hasn’t been made yet,” he said.