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Jaywalking

Jaywalking: MIAA strikes again

This past weekend was supposed to be for some the fulfillment of high school dreams. It became a nightmare.

The common villain in all cases? No! You won’t believe it: The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

It was not a good weekend for the folks at the MIAA offices, as eyebrows all over the state were raised due to a number of decisions spanning multiple sports.

It all started Friday when two stories broke. The first thing I heard that day was that schools from across the state were pleading with the MIAA to move multiple baseball sectional championship games due to SAT conflicts scheduled simultaneously. That story hit close to home because it affected Turners Falls and Hopkins Academy, who were set to play in the WMass Division IV championship game at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Both schools tried to get the game moved because a total of 10 players combined were scheduled for SATs. The response they were met with was an emphatic, “No!” There is actually language written into the spring-tournament format listed on the MIAA website (MIAA.net), which actually states that games will not be moved due to college-board exams. That gave MIAA officials justification to keep the game scheduled as was. It was also stated that the SATs are offered seven times during the year, and student athletes should be wary of taking them when they might interfere with postseason events. In fact, Super Bowl Saturday falls on an SAT exam day.

I tried to look at the controversy fairly, taking into consideration both sides’ perspectives. The MIAA does take into account graduations and proms during the spring season, and the MIAA said it needs to draw the line somewhere. Because the SATs are offered seven times, I can understand why the MIAA refused to budge.

The issue is that the MIAA, much like the NCAA, preaches about how important the student part of “student-athlete” is. So it would then only make sense to, if possible, cut the tourney schedule slack. If this had happened on Super Bowl Saturday, it would be easy for the MIAA to point out that it only has Gillette Stadium (the site of the Super Bowls) for one Saturday, so the games must be played. But the UMass baseball fields should be more flexible than a professional football stadium. And if both teams agreed, what’s the harm with moving it to Sunday and playing it at any of the other fields in western Mass? I’ve been to WMass title games at multiple locations, from St. Joseph’s Field in Thorndike to Bullens Field in Westfield and beyond, and although UMass is a better venue, others are equally appropriate. There was talk about wanting to make the day special, with three straight games, but realistically there are very few people who actually stick around for all three games. Most fans root on their town team and split. In fact, maybe the games would have actually started on time if there had only been two games that day.

There is the other issue as to where to draw the line. If the MIAA moves a game for SATs, then will it make a similar move for something else? It could open a Pandora’s box. But I believe people are reasonable. The MIAA will not be moving games due to little Timmy’s birthday or a dance recital on the day of a WMass title. Sometimes you just need a little common sense, and while I can understand the MIAA’s views regarding the SATs, and even accept them to a point, it just seems to me that the people in charge of “Building the future ... one student at a time,” would want to accommodate one of the most important exams in student-athletes’ lives.

The MIAA got into more hot water Friday, when a report surfaced that two players from the Beverly High School lacrosse team had been suspended after they were photographed smoking cigars following their graduation.

This was another case of the MIAA having precedent for suspension. The MIAA has rules governing the use of tobacco, and the two players in question — Nick Donover and Dylan Jutras — clearly broke it. Players competing on MIAA-member schools are forbidden to consume alcohol, tobacco and nonprescribed drugs, and the penalty is suspension from 25 percent of remaining regular-season games or removal from postseason games.

I’m all for keeping tobacco, alcohol and drugs out of the hands of high school students. But, again, I also have common sense, and when it’s clear that the only reason these kids had cigars was to celebrate their graduation, I could see letting it slide. Again, you could raise the question: Where does it end? But these kids were not doing anything illegal. They are of age. Maybe they made a poor decision, but they didn’t do anything criminal. Maybe the fact that I’m not some stuffy old man making six figures makes it a struggle to comprehend their reasoning, but can’t we just use some common sense? I know that as the MIAA head honchos are sitting on their seaside docks over the Father’s Day weekend sipping Dewars and smoking cigars (irony?), they are not giving it a second thought. But you just took away a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from two kids who were doing nothing that people have not done in celebration for centuries.

But ... speaking of taking away opportunities, get a load of the final blemish for the MIAA; it occurred at the All-State Track and Field Championships at Bridgewater State University Saturday night when the lights went out before completion of the pole vault competition. Five athletes including Greenfield’s Vlad Popusoi were left standing in the dark. According to Greenfield coach Stu Elliott, the official working the event stormed off the field and went home in classic prima donna form. When the lights came back on within 20 minutes, no one was left to officiate the event and the athletes and coaches had no choice but to pack up and go home.

On Sunday, one MIAA official said he was told that meet director Michael Meagher met with the pole-vault official after the lights went out and a decision was made to call the event. There is language written in the MIAA tournament format, according to Elliott, that gives officials that power if it’s in the best interest of the student-athletes. But no one ever told Elliott, Popusoi or anyone else that. That’s why a story that appeared on Masslive early Sunday quoted Elliott as believing the meet would possibly be resumed. He didn’t know because no one told him or anyone else.

He then learned Sunday morning that the results had been made official despite the fact that athletes were still jumping. These kids, who have worked hard all season for this very opportunity, were being screwed over by the very people who allege to be looking out for their best interest. I was unable to get the name of the official in charge of the pole vault, but he should be fired immediately. It was an irresponsible act, and robbed these athletes of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The good news is that the event is going to be completed Wednesday, although that was agreed upon only after numerous people contacted the MIAA. That included Westborough High School coach Roger Anderson, who has two competitors still alive, including the only one who cleared 13 feet, 9 inches on his first attempt. He could have left well enough alone but it turns out he actually knows Popusoi through pole vaulting (of which he is a coach), and he did not want it to end this way. There is also the case of Clinton High School’s Anthony Innamorati, who Elliott said was having the meet of his life and was denied a chance to break his school record.

But all is not OK. While the event will be completed, it is not going to be easy for athletes to have to come in at 13-9. Popusoi, the defending state champion and regardless of Wednesday’s results, is the best in the state again this season, said that it will not be easy, although he thinks he can do it.

“It’s going to be tough, but everyone else has to do it,” he said. “And the guy that cleared 13-9, he will have to start even higher, so it could be worse for him.”

Popusoi said he was upset all day on Sunday, but had put things in perspective and he recognized that even if the state meet was not resumed, he would be moving on to New Englands and then to Division I UMass-Lowell next season.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I really wanted to defend my title, though, and I’m excited to get the chance. Even if I didn’t, I knew that it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my best.”

No Vlad, it had nothing to do with your performance, it had to do with the people who like to say, “It’s all about the kids.” Unfortunately, Popusoi seems to have a better perspective on things than many of these people. And it’s not going to change any time soon. As one local coach said when I spoke with him on Sunday and mentioned the pole vaulting fiasco:

“Hey, that’s the MIAA.”

Well stated.

On a much lighter note, I got a call from the Mohawk decathlon team last Tuesday as they sat at Papa Gino’s in Northampton. Evan Bruffee and Matt Walsh had just taken part in the mayonnaise bet I wrote about in this space last week and Walsh defeated Bruffee by the closest score ever in the eight years the bet has been wagered. Bruffee held a slight lead heading into the final event, the 1,500 meter run, but Walsh beat Bruffee and wound up defeating him 3,330-3,231.

So Bruffee sat at Papa Gino’s with a jar of mayonaisse in front of him and had not only his team but other athletes from other schools stop by, including some from Southwick who had heard about the bet and wanted to watch Bruffee eat the jar of mayo. Both Walsh and Ed Muenkel, another athlete on the team, had to each take a scoop because both had taken zeros in one event, but Bruffee was left to eat the rest of the jar. He called me just before he set in.

“I kind of knew going into the last event that I was in trouble,” he said. “I was kind of hoping to just stay close enough to him, but after the second lap I knew it was going to be very bad.”

I called Mohawk coach Shawn Billings later to find out how he did.

“He got most of it,” Billings said with a pause, so I asked him if he managed to keep it down.

“He didn’t quite keep it down,” he continued. “He shared it with a bit of the Papa Gino’s bathroom, and he wasn’t feeling good the next day, either.”

It was all in good fun and Billings said the bravery of Bruffee and Walsh has sparked others on the team who will be back next season to already start sizing each other up. It could be a lucrative spring next year for Hellman’s.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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