Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker won an appeal to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association Wednesday for reinstatement of about a dozen Sequoyah High School student athletes who were ruled ineligible last month.
"Today's victory is all about the kids," Baker said. "The eligibility of these students was threatened by former school administrators, all of whom were adults and knew better than to ignore clearly defined OSSAA rules. Over the summer we hired a new superintendent and athletic director, both of whom are committed to compliance with association rules. We're pleased this new team of administrators, with the support of our attorney general, is going to help keep all of our athletic programs from suffering further sanctions."
Under a restitution agreement with the OSSAA, Sequoyah agrees to:
- Prohibit spring 2013 football practice and participation in 2013 summer football camps and clinics
- Prohibit interschool football scrimmages before the opening of the regular 2013 football season
- Be placed on a two-year warning
- Conduct an internal operation audit of all school sports to ensure compliance
- Reimburse OSSAA for attorney fees and other investigation costs
- A suspension, for the coach in question, from coaching any OSSAA member school for one year
- Require students in question to reimburse the school for football summer camp tuition
In exchange, the student athletes in question will be eligible to compete in other sports this school year.
One student is excluded from the reinstatement decision.
Penalties could have been as harsh as barring Sequoyah from the playoffs in all sports for several years or remove the school as an OSSAA member, said Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden.
"This was very fair, better than we expected," Crittenden said. "It means students are not sitting out of any further sports beyond the current football playoffs and 3A title game."
"We have fought tooth and nail for these kids to come to a compromise. The 'death penalty' would have been devastating for our school, particularly because these students didn't knowingly do anything wrong," Superintendent Leroy Qualls said. "The adults in this situation not only put their athletic careers in jeopardy, but also their chances for athletic scholarships that would send them to college. It's been such a terrible situation for them."
In a Nov. 3 letter from OSSAA director Ed Sheakley, the association wrote that violations had occurred over the summer and in several prior years. Sheakley went on to say the violations involved current student athletes, as well as former students "with the knowledge and involvement of the school coaches and past school administrators." The association also commended Sequoyah for taking immediate corrective action against one of the coaches in question.
"This entire ordeal has been heartbreaking for our students, their parents and our entire Sequoyah family. Thankfully, I have a new team of leaders in place at Sequoyah who are dedicated to compliance and making this right for our kids," Baker said. "We hope this agreement with the OSSAA will help us, and more importantly our student athletes and their families, put everything behind us and move forward."