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West ruling begs for answers

By Staff
April 20, 2002
Every story has its twists, but the saga of the West Lauderdale baseball team being ousted from the playoffs for the first time in 20 years is beginning to look more and more like a helplessly knotted shoelace.
The rumors and innuendoes circulating about the Knights being turned in for using a player that was ruled by the MHSAA to be ineligible are continuing to grow.
Before I even begin to delve into this story, let me make a few things very clear Jerry Boatner is one of the finest high school baseball coaches who ever sat in a dugout; I personally know Jamie Fontan (the player in question) and his father, and respect them both; and if a team uses an ineligible player, then they should forfeit the games. It's as simple as that.
Now to make a few points, but more importantly, to ask a few questions.
Apparently Carthage who because of the ruling advanced to the playoffs turned the Knights in, but the finger is being pointed at Southeast Lauderdale for getting the ball rolling.
But it is my intention not to print another word about it in The Meridian Star sports section until there are new and verifiable facts. I'm not interested in suggestions and rumors, just facts.
Here are a few things I do know Fontan pitched at Southeast Lauderdale as a freshman two years ago and last season he played at Lamar School, a member of the Mississippi Private School Association.
Southeast, West and the other public schools in the state are members of the Mississippi High School Activities Association.
If I were forced to, I could jot down a long list of players who over the past 20 years have moved from one district to another to play sports.
And while there have been a few who have moved closer to Collinsville to play baseball for Boatner and at West Lauderdale, there certainly are other schools involved.
In fact, one area high school basketball coach has been repeatedly accused of blatantly recruiting players for his team.
This is not a new issue, and it will not go away.
To be perfectly honest, I believe any student should be able to attend any school at which they can qualify for entrance for any reason they want to.
If they want to play for a certain coach, fine. If they want to play at a bigger school, fine. If they want to play at a smaller, less competitive school in order to get more playing time, fine. If they want to attend a school that has an outstanding art program, and or a top-notch marching band, fine. If they feel that the chemistry or English teachers at one school will give them a needed edge for college, then let them transfer.
But, quite obviously, what I think does not matter one little bit. The only association I have with the MHSAA is covering games it sponsors and writing about the decisions the organization makes.
Some have said this whole thing is some sort of vendetta against Boatner. Some have said it is all about jealously of the strong West Lauderdale baseball program. Others say it's just simply a case of a school playing an ineligible player and getting caught.
And maybe it is.
But now is the time to ask some of those aforementioned questions.
First I wonder about the kids on the West Lauderdale team who have worked so hard to go undefeated in league play.
They have been penalized for something they had nothing to do with.
Is that fair?
If you look at the games that WL had to forfeit, you will see that three of those games were ones that West Lauderdale would have won had Jamie Fontan never walked onto the Collinsville campus. Those three wins alone would have pushed the Knights into the playoffs.
But I guess the thing that bothers me the most is the timing of the thing.
Remember, I really don't have a problem with the Knights being forced to forfeit if a rule was broken, I just wonder about the motivation of those behind it.
If Fontan was ineligible last week, then he likely was ineligible in March. And if he was ineligible in March, he likely was ineligible in February. And If he was ineligible in February, he likely was ineligible in January.
What is the point, you ask?
If West Lauderdale had been reported in October, February, March, or any month before April for that matter, then the Knights would have likely still been able to make the playoffs.
Fontan would have been ruled ineligible at the point of the ruling and West would have only forfeited games he had played in.
It appears, and I use the word appears because this is only an observation, that those behind turning in the rule violation waited until West Lauderdale could not recover to turn the Knights in.
This is where I have a problem with the situation.
And you have to ask yourself this had the Knights not qualified for the playoffs, would they have been turned in at all?
If the answer is no, then I think that answers a lot of questions.
What do you think?