In one of the busiest - and certainly most stunning - administrative ruling football seasons in recent memory, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association probably pulled off the biggest stunner in the nation Wednesday.
An appeal board gave back the state's fourth-ranked
and undefeated team Guthrie (Okla.)
eight wins the OSSAA had taken away the week before, turning the state's 5A-1 playoffs upside down.
Guthrie (10-0) was penalized last week for using an ineligible player.
All seemed lost and almost all figured that decision was final. But the team's head coach Rafe Watkins never lost hope and made one last gallant plea.
According to the Oklahoman
, Watkins stood before the board and said: "Suspend me from the playoffs if these kids can play," he said.
That earnest plea apparently resonated, as the OSSAA suspended Watkins for eight games - the amount the team originally forfeited - the school will give up all playoff money and the football program will placed on one year probation.
But the good news is that the Bluejays are back in the playoffs and open Saturday against Durant
The player in question Clint Simek was denied a separate appeal for his eligibility despite the board stating that he or the family did nothing wrong. The family moved from Prague to Guthrie last Feb but certain protocol and papers weren't followed.
"There's only one person to blame," Watkins told the newspaper. "If I did all the dealing with it, then I'm to blame. ... But the Bluejays are back in the playoffs, and that's all I care about."
The board members adhered to more common sense and less to traditional by-laws.
Board Vice President Jay McAdams told the Oklahoman "we put more back on the adults instead of the kids."
Many of the transfer rules are cumbersome and complicated and those in the know saw Watkins not as someone who was trying to cheat, but perhaps who didn't have time to read the small print.
His players said they will miss him dearly in the playoffs, but will also play for him.
"He's the best person I've ever met," senior lineman Blake Belcher
told the Oklahoman after Wednesday's practice. "He'd do anything for this team, and we'd do anything for him."
With Guthrie re-entrance into the playoffs, one team took a fall. That was El Reno
. Its coach Shawn Mason said he knew going into the playoffs he knew his squad could be ousted if Guthrie was reinstated.
"It's a strain on the kids," he told the newspaper. "They went in thinking they were gonna be in it and now they're out."
And the Bluejays thought they were out, but now they're in.
Guthrie junior quarterback Bryan Dutton told the Oklahoman: "We've got to write a book about it, make a movie if we could win it." Original Oklahoma 5A state football brackets.