Paul Valencia: WIAA is not out to get athletes

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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It might come as a surprise to some, but the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is not out to get the student-athletes, to punish them. Many of its rules are in place to protect student-athletes, in fact.

However, when those rules are broken, even accidentally, even by adult coaches or administrators, sometimes the athletes are penalized.

The King’s Way Christian volleyball players did not make the schedule this past fall. Yet, the team played in too many matches. The athletic district ruled the Knights in violation and disqualified them from competing in the state tournament. The WIAA upheld that ruling in an appeal.

It was a sentence that did not sit well with state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver. Benton has a bill before state lawmakers that aims to prevent high school students from being punished for rule violations that coaches, athletic officials or other adults make. The bill, according to a report in The Columbian, has bipartisan support.

Well, of course it does. In this political climate, if someone does not support it, opponents will run attack ads.

“Sen. Valencia (fictional) voted against this bill. He hates kids. When a basketball finds its way over the fence onto his property, he keeps the ball. He probably beats puppies, too.” Followed by, “This ad paid for by the If-You-Like-Kids,-You-Will-Only-Vote-Our-Way Committee.”

Politicians might want to take a closer look rather than to just vote in favor of the “the kids.”

After all, the WIAA rules favor the athletes.

There is a reason there are limits on the number of contests for each sport. It is a competitive advantage to play more games than other schools.

Imagine there were a basketball team in Clark County that for years has dominated its league, with very few competitive games. If the coach knew his players would not be punished, why wouldn’t he schedule two or three extra games against quality Oregon opponents prior to Washington’s postseason, for example?

Benton also used an example from a few years back when the football team from Archbishop Murphy was disqualified from the state football playoffs after it was learned a player’s physical had expired. There were heartbreaking circumstances surrounding this case because the school’s coach and athletic director was dying from cancer when this administrative mistake was made.

That one made national news, with some opining just how mean-spirited the WIAA had become.

But think about it another way. What if that one athlete had collapsed on the football field? What if a routine physical would have picked up the danger? The rules regarding physicals are there to protect the athletes.

We all know it was a paperwork error, but most of us also know that it would have been a lawsuit waiting to happen should that athlete have played without a physical and then something terrible had happened to that player.

Benton’s bill wants to prevent students from being punished for an adult’s mistake. So what happens if a basketball coach calls a timeout after he has run out of timeouts. Can’t give a technical. That’s an adult mistake, isn’t it?

OK, maybe that’s taking it a bit far.

So here’s another thought: What violation worthy of sanctions against an entire team is ever just because of a student? If a student lies about his residency, for example, there are adults associated with that student who allowed the lie. If a student who is academically ineligible plays in a game, the administrators who allowed him in a contest are at fault, as well.

No one is suggesting that the King’s Way or Archbishop Murphy situations were anything but honest mistakes. Yet, mistakes have consequences. What is the point of a governing body of high school athletics if that body cannot enforce its rules?

My fear is that this bill would actually lead to more schools breaking the rules. You know, because there would be few, if any, real consequences.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reaached at (360) 735-4557 or email at paul.valencia.@columbian.com.