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Terry Sanford principal under investigation

Posted November 10, 2009
Updated November 12, 2009

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— A Terry Sanford High School football player's ineligibility is linked to the suspension of school principal Diane Antolak, Cumberland County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Communication Wanda McPhaul said.

“The information that was brought to the superintendent was that there were some possible irregularities in how grades had been posted and reported,” McPhaul said.

Antolak, who was suspended with pay last week, is being investigated for possibly tampering with a transcript, McPhaul said. As a result of that investigation, information came to light about a player on the football team, McPhaul said.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association decided Monday that Terry Sanford must forfeit its nine regular season wins after the school self-reported the use of an ineligible player. The school was then shut out from Friday's 4-A state playoff game against Pine Forest High School.

Superintendent Frank Till Jr. said the school received information last week that eligibility issues existed with multiple students.

After investigating student transcripts, Till said, the school found on Monday morning that one student athlete had not met the minimum requirements in the previous semester.

"There were not sufficient credits and maybe the number of days of attendance was in question," Terry Sanford booster club president Jim Arp said.

During a regularly scheduled meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Education, Arp said that a written agreement existed between the school system and the parents of the student in question addressing the discrepancies.

"There was some information that related directly to the student's academic and attendance issues and that an agreement had been reached. Issues that arose last year would be expunged from the student's record," he said. "If they are expunged as was agreed to, then he would be fully eligible to participate. So there would not be an eligibility issue."

Arp and parents from Terry Sanford asked the school system Tuesday to appeal the NCHSAA decision forcing the team to forfeit its season. However, after a closed session Tuesday evening, the board denied the appeal and said the information presented was not new.

“It was clear he was ineligible," school board Chairman Greg West said. "There was no new evidence brought forward today."

NCHSAA scholastic requirements state a student must have passed a “minimum load of work during the preceding semester to be eligible at any time during the present semester.”

If a student is not academically eligible at the beginning of the semester, he is not eligible at any time during the semester, according to the NCHSAA. The only exception is a student who receives an incomplete, which causes him to fail to meet the scholastic requirements. The student’s eligibility would be restored if the course is completed.

Rick Strunk, associate executive director of the NCHSAA, said Terry Sanford has not "hinted at any other sports being involved right now."

Strunk said it is not unprecedented for a school to report this type of violation, but it is surprising that it was reported so late in the year.

“The vast majority of self-reported violations happen early on in the school year. For this to come to us so late is rather unusual,” he said.

According to NCHSAA policy, the Bulldogs' nine regular-season opponents each get to add a win to their ledger, but playoff placement and seeding will remain unchanged.

A school must forfeit games for which an ineligible player dresses and must also pay a $500 fine," according to the NCHSAA rules The fine, however, is typically cut in half for schools who self-report violations.

Strunk said additional penalties are not likely “since the statute of limitations runs out Sept. 1. I can’t think of implications that would extend into next year.”

Martha Spires, the mother of player Drew Spires, said Tuesday that the players were still dealing with the aftermath of Monday's announcement.

"They are all still devastated. They are all crying and they are all hurt," Spires said.

"It just hurts you in your heart. I mean, to have that all taken away from you," Jesse Raines, a senior and offensive tackle on the Terry Sanford football team, said.

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