Tahlequah Daily Press

October 18, 2013

SHS: Standing up for the kids

Readers' Forum

TAHLEQUAH — Editor, Daily Press:

Last year, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association kept Sequoyah’s football team from playing in the state playoffs, even though they earned the District Championship with a 9-1 record. The OSSAA claimed it was a policy violation for the Cherokee Nation to pay for camps for 12 of the players, even though the policy was not effective until the players attended after most of the camps.

Based on the alleged violations, the OSSAA banned Sequoyah from playing in the state championship playoffs, forfeited all their regular season wins, and took away their District Championship. Sequoyah coaches saw dozens of other high schools at the same camps paying fees and expenses for their students, but the OSSAA did not forfeit any other school’s games for those violations.   

I took the case of Brayden Scott, Sequoyah’s quarterback, because he and the team never gave up, showed leadership and poise all season, and were dealt a terribly inexcusable wrong by the OSSAA.  

The legal case began in October 2012, in the Cherokee County District Court and continued to the Nov. 7, 2012, OSSAA administrative hearings. At that OSSAA hearing, the current administration claimed some kind of public relations victory, even though Chief Baker had agreed for Sequoyah students to be unfairly punished and for the school to pay a fine, though they had done nothing wrong.  

The punishments included, but were not limited to, the students having to pay thousands of dollars to Sequoyah; the school paying $25,000 to OSSAA; and a one-year suspension for the coach. All were unnecessary, if only Baker and the Nation had simply stood up for its own innocent citizens. Instead, Baker used this controversy to blame my administration to make political points. After he cut a deal with the OSSAA, the Cherokee Nation quit the litigation and abandoned Sequoyah’s football players. On Nov. 8, 2012, the Cherokee Nation announced in District Court: “Now, we choose not to contest the OSSAA’s sanctions against Sequoyah High School.”  

Even though the Nation gave up, the fight continued.

When I applied for an emergency order to allow the team to play in the state championships, the OSSAA told the Supreme Court the Cherokee Nation was not there and was not asking for Sequoyah to play. It was just me representing Brayden Scott. The Supreme Court turned down the emergency order and ordered a regular appeal to begin, which would take almost a year to complete.

During Scott’s Supreme Court appeal, Sequoyah’s administration and the Cherokee Nation demanded payback from every student for every sports camp they attended in the previous years. Many players and their parents accused Baker and his crew of “throwing the kids under the bus,” “political grandstanding,”  “making an appearance in court and then leaving when punishment was dealt,” “cowering down,” and “licking the OSSAA’s boots.”  Regardless of the emotional response of these players losing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for a state championship, it is very clear Baker’s administration did not fight for these students. They abandoned them when it got tough.

I continued Brayden Scott’s appeal in spite of the current administration. And we won. On Oct. 1, 2013, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the OSSAA’s investigation and sanctions against Sequoyah’s football team last year should be thrown out in their entirety. The Supreme Court held that the punishment the OSSAA inflicted on Sequoyah - taking away its nine season wins and its 2012 District Championship, refusing them to let the team play in the state champions, making the students reimburse the school for camp fees, making Sequoyah pay $25,000 in attorney fees and suspending Coach Scott for one year - was arbitrary and capricious.

The Supreme Court decision vindicated Brayden Scott, Coach Scott and his team, because the Court found the majority of the alleged infractions occurred before there ever was a rule against schools paying for individual sports camps.

After the Supreme Court found the OSSAA wronged Sequoyah, the Baker administration, in a press released on Oct. 2, 2013, said that “We not only fought for these young student athletes to play football, but also fought to ensure that these students could play other sports and activities the rest of the school year.”   

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Cherokee Nation rolled over and made a deal with the OSSAA.

When I took the case, I told Brayden and his fellow players, “I would not give up in righting the wrong dealt to them, because they would not give up on the football field.” It is a shame that Brayden and his family had to fight this fight without the Cherokee Nation’s support.

These fine young men lost the chance to play for the state championship that they earned. But each is a champion because they faced adversity and overcame it. Now, the Supreme Court has ensured the courts will give all students like those on Sequoyah’s football team a meaningful hearing.

The Supreme Court made clear students will get their money back from Sequoyah for their reimbursement of the camp fees, regardless of the sport they played. The OSSAA should restore the team’s season wins and give them back the District Championship that they earned. And hopefully, Coach Scott can get back to coaching.

Chad Smith