By BEN JOHNSON
Kara Linch walked out to midcourt, holding Sequoyah’s slowpitch softball state championship trophy up high. The smile across Linch’s face was hard not to notice.
In fact, it was hard to find a slowpitch softball player that wasn’t grinning from ear to ear.
That’s just the kind of day it was at The Place Where They Play on Friday morning.
In a ceremony that was supposed to be a surprise for the athletes, Sequoyah softball players gathered at the school’s gymnasium as the Lady Indians’ 5A state championship trophy was returned following a tumultuous 10-month period in which the Sequoyah was stripped of its title before having it returned.
“We finally got it back,” Linch said. “I’m excited.”
Said Sequoyah athletic director Marcus Crittenden, “This is an absolutely fantastic day to be an Indian.”
In May of 2012, Sequoyah went 3-0 at the slowpitch state tournament and beat Morris, 5-1, in the finals to win the 5A crown. However, eligibility issues surfaced and Kelsey Leach was called into question.
The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association ruled Leach was ineligible to participate in athletics in Sequoyah, thus meaning she participated in slowpitch softball illegally, making the slowpitch title null and void.
Yet, two months after the OSSAA came to that conclusion, the governing body of Oklahoma high school sports ruled that Leach and her family were able to prove legal residency and a waiver of eligibility was no longer required to reestablish eligibility.
“We knew at that point that the reason the title was vacated was based on bad information,” Crittenden said. “We knew, in our hearts, that the title legitimately belonged to us, at that point.”
That’s when the slowpitch title was reinstated, allowing Sequoyah players to revel in the glory of being state champions.
“As for advertising that on out to a larger audience, we felt like we needed to wait until the mandatory audit (of the entire athletics program) ... had been completed,” Crittenden said of the delay to hold the assembly and present the softball players with the trophy. “We needed to have that completed and know for a fact that there were no violations on the same slowpitch team that might result in kind of a tug-of-war issue where we get the trophy now and had to give it back.
“It ripped the girls’ hearts out to lose it once, and we were not going to be involved in it being lost twice.”
After those obstacles were cleared, Sequoyah opted to wait until after winter sports were completed to hold the ceremony.
Missing for Sequoyah on the special day was former player Saharra Henson and current player Courtney Jones.
Also, noticeably absent were the two coaches (Larry Grigg and Dewayne Hammer) who led Sequoyah to the 5A title. Hammer was recently let go at Sequoyah, and Grigg was replaced by Crittenden as the school’s athletic director during the fall months of 2012.
“I miss them,” Linch said, “but this is still fun. We have a good time in slowpitch.”
Representing the coaching staff for the slowpitch during the event was Larry Shade, who was an assistant on the slowpitch team in 2012. Shade did take a couple of moments and mention Grigg and Hammer and their contributions to the team.
Crittenden said the trophy returning to Sequoyah brings to an end an ugly chapter in Sequoyah athletics, in which the football team was also forced to forfeit nine regular-season victories because of the use of ineligible players.
“I think this is a great step toward healing and come closer that was desperately needed,” Crittenden said.
Prior to the softball players being honored, Sequoyah’s Kayla Davis was presented with her All-State jacket for finishing first in the 400-meter race at the Class 3A state track meet last season. Powerlifters, Grant Neugin, Jordan Colburn and Greydon Elrod, were also recognized for their efforts at the recent state powerlifting state tournament.
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