Archbishop Murphy players hope for a victory off the field

EVERETT — Their fight on the field is over, but they believe there’s still work to do.

Having accepted that their 2007 season is wiped out, seniors on the Archbishop Murphy High School football team hope to make a difference by preventing other teams from enduring what they’ve recently gone through.

Murphy’s 11 seniors will meet at 8 a.m. today with Mike Colbrese, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, at WIAA headquarters in Renton. The players plan to share their frustrations in a private meeting with Colbrese and offer suggestions for changing the rule that abruptly ended their season, Murphy co-captain Ryan Bourke said Monday.

School officials on Thursday discovered a Murphy football player had competed nearly the entire season with an expired medical exam, a violation of state athletic rules. High school officials reported the error and, after several appeals, the school was required Friday to forfeit all eight games the ineligible player participated in, including its Nov. 3 district playoff victory over Bellingham.

The violation occurred during a tumultuous time. Wildcat head coach Terry Ennis died of cancer Sept. 12, four days after the player’s medical exam expired. Also, the school’s athletic office had moved to a new location earlier that month.

The Wildcats, who were 10-0 before the forfeits, have no delusions of overturning the WIAA ruling, Bourke said. But “at this point,” he said, “we want to make a difference in the rules.”

Nothing will revive the team’s season, Archbishop Murphy football coach Rick Stubrud said. Still, “the kids want an explanation for themselves. They just want to hear from the horse’s mouth what was the basis for the decision,” Stubrud said.

The players, who had been scheduled to play Longview’s Mark Morris High School on Saturday in a first-round Class 2A state playoff game, hope to convince Colbrese and the WIAA to make room for exceptions to the physical-exam rule.

“We don’t want this to happen again to another team,” Bourke said. “We understand that they’re following the rules, but this is something that needs to be fixed. We want to build some compassion into it.”

The Archbishop Murphy seniors who plan to attend the meeting with Colbrese are Bourke, Tyler Allen, Jake Bos, Sean Connelly, Zeke Evers, Fred Hines, Patrick Kelly, Sky Muller, Nic Peterson, Jared Smith and Henry Woods. The meeting came together early Monday afternoon when Connelly called Colbrese and requested a meeting.

It’s rare to get such a request from student-athletes, Colbrese said, but he quickly agreed to meet.

Asked about physical-exam requirements and any potential exceptions, Colbrese said: “The rules are very clear that if a player participates without a (valid physical) then they’re ineligible. It’s clear that it’s a forfeit.”

Colbrese said that although the WIAA hasn’t handled an appeal with these exact circumstances, schools do periodically appeal similar violations and argue that student-athletes should not be punished for an error in oversight.

“But member schools have said very clearly that they don’t want that to be an excuse,” said Colbrese, referring to past rulings by the WIAA executive board, which considers appeals that move beyond the league and district level.

The executive board consists of 13 athletic administrators from WIAA member schools or school districts.

The physical-exam rule shields schools from medical liability and protects student-athletes from unknowingly competing with serious medical problems, such as a life-threatening heart condition, Colbrese said.

Contact Herald Writer Mike Cane at mcane@heraldnet.com.

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