The Chugiak High football team, which started the week as a playoff contender, must forfeit all of its victories from this season because one of its players is ineligible, coach Duncan Shackelford said Thursday.
The forfeits, which will be made official next week by the Alaska School Activities Association, drop the Mustangs from 3-3 to 0-6. That takes them out of the state playoff picture with two regular-season games remaining, including tonight's game against West High.
"Someone called and informed our activities principal that one of our players was ineligible, and we checked on that kid and found out he wasn't eligible and we had played him in all the games," Shackelford said.
"It was not an act of hiding or commission on the part of coaching staff or anything. It was purely an administrative oversight that unfortunately is going to end up with 32 kids not getting to have the games they won this year."
The player is home-schooled and did not meet the Anchorage School District's eligibility rules, according to district spokeswoman Heidi Embley.
Shackelford, a head coach for 18 years, eight of them at Chugiak, said he told his team about the pending forfeitures an hour after he learned about the player's ineligibility.
"We spoke about it, and there were a lot of tears, let me tell you," he said. "We told 'em, you can pack it in and you can go home and start eating potato chips and drinking Pepsi early or you can get a little upset at this and then get after it for two more games.
"They went out and practiced like champions. We did special teams and we were gonna send them home, but they wanted to do conditioning. I don't know how much prouder I could be of a group of young men than I was yesterday."
The ineligible player is enrolled in IDEA, a statewide correspondence program. Run by the Galena School District, IDEA boasts 3,478 students statewide, including 874 in Anchorage, according to Chris Reitan of the Galena City School District.
While IDEA students can compete as individuals in ASAA-sanctioned sports like skiing, swimming, wrestling and cross country, they do so as IDEA students, not as students of a brick-and-mortar school. They cannot compete in team sports, because IDEA's students are scattered across the state, Reitan said, making it impossible for IDEA to offer team sports like football or basketball.
Furthermore, Anchorage School District rules require that a student must be enrolled in the district in order to join activities at district schools. IDEA students, no matter where they live, are enrolled in the Galena district, Reitan said.
The only Anchorage home-schoolers eligible to participate in activities at Anchorage schools are those enrolled in one of two programs that are part of the district -- the Frontier Charter School and the Family Partnership Charter School. Those programs have 810 students this year, 377 at the high school level, according to Embley.
Gary Matthews, executive director of ASAA, said he learned about the ineligibility Thursday morning and will make the forfeits official next week.
"The rule is pretty clear," he said. "The penalty for ineligibility is the school forfeits the game or meet. If it's a team sport, the entire team forfeits. I don't have any wiggle room on that. It's not something I can waive.
"It's a horrible thing, and I feel horrible."
Matthews said it's rare for the ineligibility of one player to result in forfeitures by an entire team, but that it happens. West High's junior varsity team recently forfeited games for using an ineligible player, he said.
Matthews said some state high school associations have a "contribution to victory" clause that allows officials to consider how an ineligible player's on-field contributions impacted the team before stripping the team of its victories.
"I brought it up with the (ASAA) board a few years ago," he said. "Our board was not interested in any part of that."
For the most part, "regular schools and correspondence schools are happy with the rules the way they are now," Matthews said. "(Correspondence programs) tell the kids, if you're in a team sport, don't sign up with this."
Benefitting from the forfeits are the three teams Chugiak scored victories against this season -- Cook Inlet Conference teams South and Eagle River and Railbelt Conference member Colony.
For Eagle River and Colony, the forfeits eliminate goose eggs in the win column. Eagle River, a 35-14 loser to Chugiak, will move to 1-5 overall (1-4 CIC) and Colony, a 35-7 loser to Chugiak, goes to 1-5 overall.
For South, the forfeit improves the Wolverines, who lost to Chugiak 21-18, to 4-1 in the CIC and 4-2 overall. Before the forfeits, South was one of three teams knotted in second place behind Service at 3-2, and Chugiak was one of three teams deadlocked at 2-3.
Shackelford said the ineligible player owns a 4.0 grade-point average and was "absolutely not at fault" in the mixup -- and that the player is likely to be on the sideline at future games and practices.
The rest of the team wants it that way, he said.
"After they got done with conditioning (at Wednesday's practice), they asked one of the team captains to let him know they still love him and want him out there with us on the sideline. He's one of their brothers. They've got nothing but love for him.
"Like I was saying, I've never been so proud of a group of boys than I was these guys. They showed me the right side of what it is, of why I've spent 28 years doing this."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.