Two of the most successful athletic seasons in Whitmer’s history will no longer count after the Ohio High School Athletic Association determined the school used an ineligible player on the football and boys basketball teams during the 2011-12 academic year.
Additionally, Whitmer will remit a payment of $50,000 to the OHSAA to offset about half of the cost incurred by the state’s governing body of high school athletics during the 17-month investigation it conducted concerning incoming transfers.
At a news conference Thursday at the Washington Local Schools administration building, OHSAA commissioner Dan Ross and WLS superintendent Patrick Hickey both said they "agree to disagree" with the other on the OHSAA’s ruling that Whitmer should be held accountable for allowing star athlete LeRoy Alexander to participate in sports at the school. Alexander, who played a key role in the Panthers claiming Division I regional and Three Rivers Athletic Conference titles in football and in basketball, precipitated the investigation with his transfer from Springfield in March, 2011.
The district will not be placed on probation, but as Ross said, it essentially was on probation for the duration of the investigation. No other Whitmer athletes were found to be in violation of transfer bylaws, and Ross confirmed the investigation targeted several transfers and not just Alexander.
"There are always an awful lot of issues — he said, she said — and the ones that we absolutely found are the ones we declared ineligible, and that is Mr. Alexander," Ross said.
Teresa Alexander, mother of LeRoy, believes Whitmer and the OHSAA are painting her son unfairly as a scapegoat.
"Without a doubt in my mind," she said. "I know they probably had to have some other things because you would not go this far with one kid. They’re trying to make my son the scapegoat and make my son look like he stole something."
In July, 2011, The Blade first reported that Alexander was ruled ineligible to participate in athletics at Whitmer or any other OHSAA member school until April 21, 2012. Alexander and his family insisted they did nothing wrong.
After the OHSAA declared him ineligible citing a falsified transfer affidavit, Alexander obtained a preliminary injunction by Lucas County Judge Frederick H. McDonald that August, enabling him to participate in the football and basketball seasons. Whitmer believed, and still does, that it had no choice given the court’s ruling but to play Alexander, who is now a freshman on the football team at the University of Nebraska. The OHSAA counters that Whitmer was under no obligation to exercise that right.
"That does not mean the coach has to put that person in the ballgame," Ross said, who added the investigation uncovered evidence suggesting Alexander was not residing in Washington Local.
Whitmer will vacate 13 wins and a state semifinal appearance in football and 23 wins and a state final appearance in basketball.
"We will always abide by a court order," Hickey said, adding he will handle any future eligibility concerns in the same manner.
In addition to the $50,000 Whitmer must pay — both parties agreed to not call it a fine — Hickey said the school has incurred legal fees of $108,609.74.
"We’ll take the money out of our general fund and write a check that hurts our stomach," he said, adding it would have been "irresponsible" to contest the OHSAA’s decision in the legal system because the final bill, of which taxpayers ultimately foot, would have been "10 times that amount."
Ross said he and Hickey have not discussed whether Whitmer will be required to return any revenue the school generated in its playoff runs.
TRAC commissioner Ken Myers said the conference will honor the OHSAA's ruling on forfeitures, and thus revoke Whitmer's league titles in football and in basketball. Since Findlay's only TRAC football loss in 2011 was to Whitmer — with Alexander playing — the Trojans are now considered the conference champion.
And because Alexander played in 19 of 20 regular-season basketball games, Whitmer's only win would be a 56-55 victory over Fremont Ross, in which Alexander did not play. Taking into account the forfeits, St. John's, Central Catholic, and Findlay now all have 12-2 TRAC records and thus share a three-way basketball title.
Whitmer basketball coach Bruce Smith declined comment when asked for his reaction on the tainted season. Former Panthers football coach Joe Palka, who resigned after the 2011 season to coach at Saline in Michigan, called Thursday’s news "unfortunate," adding "if we had a court order to play [Alexander] that’s what we were going to do."
The OHSAA’s probe, which was conducted by a team of investigators dispatched to the area, revealed that some coaches at Whitmer did not possess proper certification from the state. Penalties for that violation were included in the $50,000 settlement.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.