Springstead’s baseball team didn’t go down without one last fight this season.
A week after a controversial 6-5 loss at Orlando Edgewater in a Class 6A region final — in which the game was called after five innings due to poor field conditions and darkness — the Florida High School Athletic Association has “declined to permit the school’s case from being heard by the Board of Directors or an emergency appeals committee,” according to a statement by Springstead officials.
On May 10, Springstead had taken a 9-6 lead in the sixth inning when a heavy rain came down. Play was suspended during the brief storm — which coach Jim Diven said lasted less than a half hour in a conference call Saturday with the Tampa Bay Times.
Springstead alleges no attempts were made by Edgewater coaches to protect the field so that the game could eventually resume and that coaches deceived them about not having equipment to preserve field conditions.
Diven said some of the Edgewater players started to run out to the team’s equipment shed during the delay, but coaches called them back saying everything was under control. He said Springstead later learned that the Edgewater athletic director had asked officials what would happen if the game could not resume.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations rule book, once the field is deemed unplayable, officials can call the game. Because the teams must have the same number of at-bats, the game reverts back to the last completed inning. In this case, the sixth inning was disallowed and the game reverted back to the fifth with Edgewater leading 6-5.
Diven added that he had asked about drying agents for the field, and Edgewater coaches said they had been used up in an earlier playoff game.
“We were all under the belief,” principal Susan Duval said Saturday, “that they didn’t have the clay or tarps. We had to assume, as hard as it was to believe, that we were being told the truth.”
According to Springstead’s report to the FHSAA, Eagles assistant baseball coach John Walls asked umpires why the field was uncovered during the rain delay and “the umpires told him they could not force Edgewater to place tarps on the field.” Walls said Edgewater coach Keith Walsh had told him the team had no equipment — such as tarps, Quick Dry and rakes — even though Walsh said he had seen tarps near the dugout and coaches using rakes for the pitching mound and home plate before the game.
“The coach blatantly …didn’t tell the truth,” Diven said. “We asked him point blank (about the drying agents).”
Duval said in a May 11 email to FHSAA assistant director for athletic services Justin Harrison that Springstead was protesting a “blatant and fragrant violation of sportsmanship and ethics.”
According to the FHSAA: “A member school must establish policies that promote sportsmanship and ethical conduct in its interscholastic athletic programs. These policies must require student-athletes, coaches and all other individuals associated with the school’s interscholastic athletic programs to adhere to such fundamental values as respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility.”
In addition to the written report to the FHSAA, Duval said the school presented photographic evidence that Edgewater possessed the necessary equipment to salvage the playing field. Springstead asked to resume the game, at a neutral site, from the point it was originally stopped by rain.
But FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing said in an email May 12 to Duval that none of his administrators “have the ability to change the rules of the game,” a statement similar to the one FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers made to the Times on Monday after an inquiry about the game’s ending.
“Once it’s final, it’s final,” said Sobers, adding “unfortunately there’s no caveat in the rule where it says it’s a really big game, it doesn’t apply. It’s tough.”
The only course left for Springstead was to ask for an emergency appeal of Dearing’s decision, which was denied late Friday.
Duval and athletic director Robert Levija stressed Saturday that they were not trying to circumvent the rules.
“We did not ask for a forfeit,” Duval said. “All our kids wanted to do was finish the game.”
Added Levija: “Edgewater controlled the outcome of the game. …And no team should be allowed to do that.”
Diven said his team (19-9) — which after winning the Class 6A, District 6 title this season also won the program’s first-ever playoff games — continued practicing up until Thursday, in hopes that the FHSAA would allow the teams to resume play.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s quite the injustice,” Diven said. “…They’re hurt. They’re hurt. They’re just deeply hurt. This team is special because they had a chance to win a state championship. They really did. It was disappointing to the team. And to the coaches. …and the community.”
“I don’t know how you mend this in young kids,” Duval said. “I’m just heartbroken about this.”