By TIM TALLEY
OKLAHOMA CITY — A varsity baseball team in southeastern Oklahoma won’t have to forfeit tournament games after the organization that governs the state’s high school sports opted Tuesday to issue a warning and a directive to suspend the team’s coach.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association had accused Wright City of violating its rules by exceeding the 22-game limit. After winning its district tournament, Wright City High School participated in a five-inning game with the Idabel junior varsity team. Then, after winning the regional tournament, Wright City played a similar game with the varsity team from Valliant.
The OSSAA issued the warning to Wright City Public Schools along with instructions to its Board of Education to suspend varsity baseball coach Kyle Butler for the remainder of this school year and the first semester of the next year. The Board of Education had previously suspended Butler for a total of five games, school officials said.
OSSAA’s executive director initially ordered the school to forfeit its next two games, which would have been played in the Class A tournament. The tournament, which had been scheduled May 2-3, was suspended after Wright City filed a lawsuit to challenge the forfeiture order. Officials said the tournament will be rescheduled.
The OSSAA issued the warning after Butler took responsibility for arranging the extra games. He said the games were essentially practice sessions that were in no way competitive. The 22-game rule is designed to prevent teams from gaining a competitive advantage and avoid overemphasis on a single sport.
“I’m truly sorry,” Butler said, urging the board to punish him instead of his players. “It was never my intention to put you guys in this situation. It’s embarrassing. It’s a mistake I made.”
Superintendent David Hawkins and the school district’s attorney, Kevin Sain of Idabel, said they were pleased with the board’s decision.
“We’re excited for our kids,” Hawkins said. “We’re tickled for them.”
“I couldn’t be happier for the town of Wright City,” Sain said. “The goal has always been that the kids get to experience the championship tournament.”
It was decided on Tuesday evening that Wright City and Sterling play their first-round game on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Byng High School. The rest of the tournament is to be determined. Wright City school officials said the varsity baseball team only has 13 players and that three of them are on vacation following completion of the school year.
Hawkins said the school system has about 430 students, including 135 in grades 9-12.
Tuesday’s hearing followed an order handed down on Friday in the case by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which lifted an injunction issued last month by McCurtain County District Judge Michael DeBerry that blocked enforcement of the forfeiture order.
The decision by the state’s highest court said “all the players in this controversy have erred.” The forfeiture order should not have gone into effect with Wright City’s request for reconsideration pending and the school district should not have gone to court before appealing to OSSAA’s board of directors, the court said.