Reporting Karen Anderson
GARDNER (CBS) – The mayor of Gardner has asked the city solicitor to file a civil lawsuit against the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association for banning the high school’s athletes from post-season play.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Doug Cope reports
It’s a fight about a disputed trophy and what constitutes fitting punishment. On Thursday, the battle between the city of Gardner and the MIAA went nuclear. “This is a rogue agency that reports to no one,” says Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, clobbering the MIAA. “No member school in the history of the organization has acted so defiantly,” says Dick Neal, MIAA’s Executive Director.
The MIAA, the organization that governs high school sports in the state, says the girls’ swim team at Gardner High School violated association rules. “They participated in our tournament, the MIAA sponsored tournament last winter, with ineligible students,” says Neal. The school was told to return the trophy the swimmers won and forfeit additional meets, but the MIAA says the school missed at least three deadlines to comply. The punishment? All winter sports teams at the high school are banned from participating in post-season tournaments.
“It’s affecting the hockey team, it’s affecting indoor track, it’s affecting basketball, it’s affecting all these teams,” says Mayor Hawke.
The girls’ basketball team practiced Thursday and some of the players told us they’re upset that they’re being punished, too. “It’s just unfair to everyone that’s working here that they take it away for something we didn’t even do,” says Megan Doiron. “They’re punishing innocent kids for no reason,” says Jill Sauvageau, another basketball player.
“How can the MIAA have all this authority and be so vindictive, arbitrary, capricious?” asks Mayor Hawke. However, the MIAA doesn’t see it that way. “There are consequences for choices and Gardner chose to defy the board on more than one occasion. They clearly have put their kids and their programs at risk,” says the MIAA’s Neal.
At first Gardner’s Mayor said he wouldn’t give up the trophy, paraphrasing actor Charlton Heston by saying they would have to pry it from his “cold, dead hands.” But today he relented and returned the trophy to the Franklin office of the MIAA. “I have a new Charlton Heston quote. ‘Let my people go.’ Let my high school kids compete because they have done nothing wrong,” says Hawke.
Even though the trophy is back in MIAA hands, the association says it’s too little, too late, and the Gardner High School winter teams are still barred from competing in post-season tournaments.