Off-field error costs Tigers

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Six Central players and coach Steve Williams will miss the district semifinals due to a violation.

Central's hopes of bringing home its first district baseball title since 2000 took a hit Friday, when the school announced that six players and head coach Steve Williams would be suspended for the district semifinal game Tuesday due to violations of Missouri State High School Activities Association guidelines.

The development came on the final day of the regular season in one of the Tigers' most successful campaigns in years. Central, which won the SEMO Conference regular-season title and the conference tournament championship, is 20-5 and has the top seed in the Class 4 District 1 tournament that begins on Monday.

Central athletic director Mark Ruark said the school self-reported the violation to MSHSAA. The violation occurred when a group of Central players attended a baseball camp from Dec. 27 to 29 in Florida at which Williams was an instructor.

"We had no intent to violate the MSHSAA guidelines," Ruark said.

Seniors Ty Craft and Lance Young and juniors Matt Hester, Brad LaBruyere, Justin Myers and Blake Slattery were suspended for Friday's regular-season finale against Scott City and the Tigers' district semifinal game on Tuesday.

"The thing I feel the worst about is for the kids," Ruark said. "They didn't do anything wrong. I just don't think the kids should have to be punished, although the guideline is clear."

Central is the host of the district tournament. Third-seeded Jackson will play No. 6 Poplar Bluff in one first-round game, and Farmington and Fox will play in the other. The Tigers will play the winner of the Farmington/Fox matchup on Tuesday, and No. 2 Seckman will play the winner of the other game.

Craft, Young, Hester, LaBruyere and Slattery are the top five RBI men for the Tigers.

LaBruyere, Young and Myers are the top three pitchers in innings pitched. That trio had started all but two games for the Tigers before the suspension.

Former Tigers head coach and current assistant coach Terry Kitchen is coaching the team during the suspension. Central defeated Scott City 8-0 on Friday.

"We've got a lot of faith in the other guys on our team," Kitchen said. "Expectations are high no matter who we've got out there playing."

In the section pertaining to sports camps, the MSHSAA handbook states that a student may attend a nonschool sponsored specialized sports camp during the school year outside of the school sport season provided: "No member of the coaching staff of the school the student is attending or will be attending the following year is involved in any way in the organization, sponsorship, administration or instruction of the camp."

Under MSHSAA guidelines, the penalty for such a violation is ineligibility for 365 days from the date of the violation.

MSHSAA assistant executive director George Blase said the school requested a lesser penalty once they found it had inadvertently violated the guideline. After MSHSAA looked at past precedent the lesser penalty was granted.

The violation still will go before the MSHSAA board of directors in June. Further penalties are possible, but Blase said he thinks that is unlikely.

"I will compliment the school for self-reporting the violation once they found out about it," Blase said.

Williams said he had been making the trip to the camp for the past 15 years, but he was informed of the violation Thursday when he received a call at home from a school -- Jefferson City -- which was in a similar situation.

Ruark said once the violation was discovered, he notified MSHSAA.

"We talk about doing things with dignity and integrity," Ruark said. "We want to put everything out in the open. We don't want to cover up anything."

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