Archbishop praises school for its honesty

EVERETT — The Seattle archbishop in an open letter praised the students and administrators at Archbishop Murphy High School for the way the school reported a violation of state athletic rules that scuttled playoff dreams and forced a painful end last week to the school’s perfect football season.

The Most Rev. Alex J. Brunett called the school’s decision a principled choice that would have made the Wildcats’ late head coach Terry Ennis proud.

Ennis, who was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame this year, died of prostate cancer in September. He was 63. The team dedicated the season to Ennis and was 10-0 before the revelation forced the school to forfeit eight of its 10 wins.

“When the school administration notified conference officials that a student had participated in varsity football competition with an expired physical examination in violation of state athletic rules, it sent a message that resonated far beyond the world of high school athletics,” Brunett wrote. “It was an honest mistake. By worldly standards the school was foolish to self report an inadvertent mix up in paperwork. After all, if school officials had not reported the violation it likely would have gone undetected, and the undefeated football team may still be competing for yet another state football championship.”

Instead, the Catholic school near Mill Creek acknowledged the mistake and reported it to the Cascade Conference.

The conference followed state guidelines and ordered Murphy to forfeit the games in which the player participated. That ruling was upheld by the District 1 board and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

Archbishop Murphy had to forfeit its past eight victories — the games the ineligible player participated in — including a district playoff win against Bellingham.

School officials and players asked the sanctioning bodies to forgive the error and consider the oversight made in the midst of a turbulent season.

The exam expired the same week Ennis died, and the school’s athletic office had moved to a new location earlier that month. The school said the discovery was made last week by a boys basketball coach who was preparing for the start of practice.

But the WIAA executive board upheld previous rulings, as it has with similar violation appeals.

“All eligibility requirements are important,” said Mike Colbrese, executive director of the WIAA. “It’s really meant to protect the safety and the health of the players. This is a very unfortunate situation, but we’ve had issues where someone has died during events.”

Annual medical exams are intended to identify student athletes who are at risk of developing health problems while playing sports, Colbrese said. He said the mistake probably would not have been discovered had the school not come forward.

Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Seattle Archdiocese, said Brunett wrote the letter because he wanted students at Archbishop Murphy to know that honesty and integrity are central to a Catholic education.

“It wouldn’t have been a perfect season, if they had to break the rules to win,” Magnoni said. “We don’t define ourselves by championships, we define ourselves by how we live our lives.”

On Tuesday, 11 seniors met behind closed doors with Colbrese.

Colbrese said the students were passionate and professional. He invited the players to return in December to discuss possible rule changes to spare future teams similar disappointment.

“You could really sense a learning moment, that sometimes you lose in life even if its seems like it’s not fair,” Magnoni said.

Murphy co-captain Ryan Bourke said the letter was read by the school’s youth minister during a spirit assembly for the girls soccer team, which was 21-0 before losing to Fife on Friday.

“A lot of people were touched that the archbishop took the time to write us,” Bourke said. “Overall, I think people got a good feeling from it.”

In February, the school named its stadium in honor of Ennis, who guided three teams to state championships during his storied career: Cascade in 1991 and Murphy in 2002 and 2003.

Murphy won all of its games this year despite losing Ennis after the second game. Rick Stubrud, Ennis’ brother-in-law, took his place as head coach.

Bourke said losing a slot in the playoffs was hard to swallow, but he is trying to keep things in perspective.

“You’ve got to move on or it will keep eating at you,” he said. “There’s more to life than just football.”

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or

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