Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SPORTS >> Delay ends, 3A to start first round a week late

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Game on.

The Class 3A state playoffs will begin this Friday following a one-week delay caused by a legal wrangle involving Lamar High School.

The first round did not go on as planned last Friday when the Arkansas Activities Association announced an indefinite suspension after a court order reinstated Lamar, which the AAA had previously disqualified from appearing in the postseason because it had used an ineligible player.

An order to reinstate Lamar by Fifth Circuit Court Judge Gordon McCain last Thursday will be upheld, and the Warriors will reclaim their No. 2 seed in the first round with a home game against Parkers Chapel, the No. 4 seed from the 7-3A Conference.

As a result, Harding Academy will have a second straight off-week. The Wildcats, who went unbeaten during the regular season to earn the top playoff seed in the 2-3A Conference, received a first-round bye and are awaiting the first-round results to learn their opponent.

“I think the overwhelming thing that came out of this was that all of the other schools followed the rules, and we didn’t want to not let those kids take part,” AAA executive director Lance Taylor said. “A local judge makes a decision that affects who plays on the road and who plays at home, and even knocks one team out of the playoffs that followed the rules.

“We’re still disappointed with the ruling, but we didn’t want to penalize all of those schools that abided by the rules that they put in place.”

Taylor also said that the AAA’s legal course of action is still pending.

“I don’t think this is over,” Taylor said. “We have 525 member schools from middle schools to high schools who all follow the same set of rules. They are the ones that set the rules, not us. They make the rules for themselves.

“We’re still examining our options. It’s all still up in the air and everything is still pending.”

The games scheduled for last week will be played Friday, and there is a new date and location for the state championship game.

The title game was originally scheduled for Dec. 11 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. But the stadium has a contract with a construction company to begin renovation of the pressbox to double its size and add a floor.

The 3A championship will now take place at Estes Stadium at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.

“Their athletic director, Brad Teague, was gracious enough to allow us to use their facilities,” Taylor said. “The construction company under contract with War Memorial has only so many days open to get in there and get the work done. War Memorial contacted us over a year-and-a-half ago for us to set the dates so they could get everything organized.”

Lamar went 6-1 in conference this season to earn its No. 2 seed, but the AAA ruled Lamar forfeited five of those victories after it was discovered one of its players moved from the Russellville school district while his parents still owned a residence in Russellville.

McCain ordered a reversal of that decision and reinstatement of Lamar to the playoffs because of what he called “extreme and unusual circumstance,” regarding alleged threats to Blaid Estes, a 6-1, 180-pound sophomore starting defensive, while Estes was attending school in Russellville.

For Harding Academy head coach Roddy Mote and his unbeaten Wildcats, the news Monday ended a weekend of anxiety. Next week, Harding Academy will play a home game against the winner of this week’s opening round game between Yellville-Summit and Cave City.

“I think our kids were excited to know that the playoffs were going to start,” Mote said. “We know that we have a game ahead of us now. There was a little anxiety in terms of people talking about the worst-case scenario, and with all of us small schools, it starts to come into play and affect other sports.

“You knew that if they didn’t come to a decision soon, that with the holidays coming up and other sports going on, that it likely wasn’t going to happen.”