The Ottumwa Courier

September 9, 2013

Ottumwa football cross country programs stung by revelations of academic ineligibility

Courier sports writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa football team and the Bulldogs boys cross country team are being punished by Iowa High School Athletic Association for accidentally allowing a couple academically ineligible athletes play in their respective events.

The Bulldog football team was forced to forfeit its varsity and sophomore games against Keokuk, thereby erasing the Ottumwa varsity team's 33-3 victory over the Chiefs in the team's season opener Aug. 30.

"We talked to our guys about doing the right thing and this was a mistake," Ottumwa football coach Zach Pfantz said. "The right thing was to self-report ourselves, which we did. It was a good opportunity for us to do the right thing."

Still, Pfantz said the verdict handed down by the IHSAA does sting a little bit. But, Pfantz said, it could be worse.

"It's a heckuva lot better than catching it in the sixth or seventh game," the Bulldog coach noted.

Pfantz made sure to add that it wasn't his player's fault they had to forfeit the game. In addition, he said that even though his team forfeited the game to the Chiefs, that doesn't take away from what his team accomplished on the field that day.

"It just means it doesn't count officially," the Ottumwa coach said.

Meanwhile, the Ottumwa boy's cross country team had to forfeit its second place finish at the Pekin-hosted Wildwood Park run last Thursday. The boys, spurred by a fourth place finish by Collin McConnell, took second with 64 points.

"I totally missed it," cross country coach Jeff Smith said about his academically ineligible runner. "It's the first time I had that happen in 20 years. It was really an oversight on my part. It's an unfortunate thing and I feel terrible about it. Thank goodness we caught it now and it didn't go any deeper and we had forfeit other meets."

In his 20 years of coaching, Smith said he's only had three ineligible players — two of those three just happen to inhabit this year's roster.

Ottumwa Athletic Director Tom Kopatich said he thought both ineligible athletes would be suspended for 30 days starting directly after the event they illegally competed in. So, the cross country runner will be eligible to compete again Oct. 6 and the football player will compete again Sept. 29. Academic ineligibility isn't related to a student athletes' GPA last semester, it's based on whether they failed a class or not last semester, Kopatich said.

To follow Andy Heintz's Twitter feed, go to @heintz23