When word came that the Gar-Field football players were to report to the auditorium after school on Friday, just a few hours before they were set to face No. 4 Hylton in a Virginia AAA Northwest Region Division 6 semifinal, the Indians figured it was just an organizational meeting.
But the Gar-Field players learned that instead of kicking off against their arch rivals in five hours in the school’s first region semifinal appearance since 2007, their 9-2 season was over for using an ineligible player in three regular season games.
“I cried,” senior wide receiver LaRon Hinton said.“My teammates were crying. There was anger. We were shocked. We feel cheated. We just sat there. We didn’t know what to do.”
“We had come so far and worked so hard to get where we wanted to be,” senior linebacker Jordan Miles said. “I just feel like they stripped it away from us.”
The Virginia High School League issued a news release late Friday afternoon that said Gar-Field had reported a possible eligibility violation to their office Thursday. It was confirmed Friday morning that the ineligible player had competed in three games.
Those three forfeits would have left the Indians with a 5-5 regular season record and a VHSL power rating that would not have been high enough to qualify for the postseason.
Gar-Field appealed the forfeitures, and a sub-committee of the VHSL Executive Committee heard the appeal via conference call, the VHSL news release said. The committee voted 4-0 to deny the appeal.
Gar-Field Coach Tom Gryder declined to comment, and Gar-Field Athletic Director Michael Payne could not be reached.
Fred Milbert, who heads up athletics and other programs for Prince William County Schools, said it was “very, very tough” to sit in on the after-school meeting at Gar-Field.
“It’s a hurtful thing and many people are going to feel the sting of it for a little while,” Milbert said. “But I was proud of the Gar-Field staff, the football players. I was very proud of their reaction and their accepting the horrible fate like men and like quality individuals.”
Osbourn Coach Steve Schultze said he received word Thursday night that the possibility of a Gar-Field forfeiture was in play. But well into Friday afternoon he had heard nothing and figured the issue had been resolved.
About 2:30 p.m., after school had dismissed, he learned that his team was back in the playoffs. At that point, he and his coaches scrambled to get word out. The Eagles (7-4), about a half-dozen of whom are playing in a basketball scrimmage Saturday morning, will be reissued mouthpieces and helmets and other gear at 1 p.m. Saturday for a 3 p.m. practice.
“It’s kind of a crazy scenario,” Schultze said. “It’s an awkward feeling. You’re not sure you deserve it, but following the rules is following the rules, so if that's how it's going to be handed to us, we’re going to play and try to win.”
Schultze said that he would look into the possibility of practicing Sunday. That’s not permitted by VHSL rules but exceptions sometimes are made.
“There might be a walk-through or something like that allowed,” VHSL Executive Director Ken Tilley said. “There’s no final decision on that yet.”
As for Gar-Field, most teams that win their final postseason game emerge as champions of a state, a league, something. The Indians won their final postseason game but have nothing to show for it.
Hinton said he and some teammates planned to get together Friday night to talk about their Gar-Field football memories. They had intended to make more.
“Whenever you’re on the football field, it might be your last football game,” Hinton said. “We didn’t even get a chance to play our last football game. Because we didn’t know it was our last football game.”