The situation involving the Elkins High School football team is unfortunate. All seven of the team's wins have been voided - taking the Tigers' record from 7-2 to 0-9 - after a ruling earlier this week by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.
Officials have indicated the penalty is the result of the team utilizing an ineligible player this season, something Randolph County Schools Superintendent James Phares indicated was an oversight. He further stated there was no attempt on the part of EHS to cheat or engage in underhanded conduct. We believe Phares, and we stand behind the team.
However, that doesn't make the ruling or its far-reaching implications any less devastating for the player who is at the heart of this controversy. Neither his name nor that of the individual who filed the complaint that launched the WVSSAC's investigation into EHS are being released. The Inter-Mountain has filed a Freedom of Information Act request that seeks access to the complaint form. Perhaps this document will help shed additional light on this serious situation and why it is being brought up now, so close to the end of the season.
Not only has the player been irreparably affected by this ruling, but so too have his teammates, school officials, the district and Tiger fans. In fact, the decision has elicited quite a strong response in the community.
Sentiments range from outrage at the WVSSAC to fingerpointing at coaches and school staff. The Inter-Mountain even has been criticized for its role in reporting the sanctions, with some readers indicating via social media that we should have waited for the students to have been informed prior to us releasing anything.
While we can't address what school officials did or didn't know and the time frame in which they received their information, we can explain how news works. For anyone to suggest that we hold this story is unreasonable. Had we done so, we're sure others would have accused the paper of ignoring - or even helping to cover up - the situation.
The Inter-Mountain on Wednesday afternoon responded to a phone call from Phares, who effectively communicated the serious nature of the penalty. The superintendent then also contacted other media, including TV affiliates.
It would have been irresponsible for The Inter-Mountain to withhold such an important story from our readers - including those who access news via online or other instant-media platforms.
Further, when and how this information was communicated to students was the responsibility of those who had these children in their care. Clearly, this issue isn't going to simply go away. Neither the district nor anyone associated with this oversight can act like an ostrich and bury one's head in the sand.
Poor communication appears to be at the heart of what caused EHS to be in violation of WVSSAC rules. The players, their parents and the public all deserve answers to some very tough questions. Among them are: How did this happen and why?
The Inter-Mountain will continue to follow this story and seek the answers to which so many in the community are entitled. This issue likely won't be resolved quickly, especially if any of the parties decide to pursue legal action, as it has been reported.
Until then, we want all of the EHS football players to know their wins counted. Regardless of what the record books may say or the final decisions in this case, the players' grit and determination in those seven wins did mean something to the fans who rallied around them this season.
But playing by the rules - all of them, all the time - means something, too. This is a very hard lesson for teenagers to learn, especially when they are paying the price for others' mistakes.
How the team and this community rebound from this situation will be the true test of character. Persevering in the face of adversity is how you put a "W" in the win column in this game we call life. Sometimes that's the most important score of all.
We hope those involved - children and adults - will have the maturity to handle this crisis as the winners we believe them to be.