Danbury has forfeited its CIAC Class LL semifinal-round victory over Shelton and is out of the boys soccer tournament due to the use of an ineligible player.
No. 7 seed Shelton will now be playing in its first state final, against No. 4 Farmington on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Willow Brook Park’s Veterans Stadium in New Britain.
Karissa Niehoff, CIAC’s executive director, said it was the use of an academically ineligible player by the 11th-seeded Hatters against Shelton Tuesday evening. Danbury athletic director Chip Salvestrini confirmed that fact as well and took full responsibility.
“I’m devastated. The kids were visibly upset,” Salvestrini said. “They were devastated. They play, that’s all they got. They’re not worried about politics and shouldn’t be.”
Salvestrini said Danbury is a “digital school” and grades came out on Nov. 4 for the kids, and their parents, to view. In reading a certain part of the CIAC manual, Salvestrini believed the player in question was now eligible after sitting out the regular season and the FCIAC tournament.
“What really pisses me off is we felt we did all the grade checks for this kid and we felt he was eligible to participate at that time,” Salvestrini said. “How Nov. 17 came into play was absolutely mind boggling. … Niehoff went to the rule in the back of the book. The rule I looked at was in front of the book.”
The rule Salvestrini is referring to is in Appendix B, page 224 of the CIAC handbook: “Student eligibility will be determined for all students on the date that report cards are distributed or on the fourteenth calendar day following the end of the marking period, whichever comes first.”
Danbury High issued report cards on Thursday, Nov. 17. According to that rule, that was when he became eligible. So the player in question played in LL tournaments wins against Fairfield Ludlowe, Hall and Trumbull in addition to Shelton while still being ineligible.
CIAC bylaws state: “The team using the ineligible player will be disqualified from the tournament and that team’s last opponent will advance in its place. Teams eliminated prior to the last opponent will not be permitted to re-enter the tournament.”
[aesop_image imgwidth=”720″ img=”http://www.gametimect.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/CxkAhiLWQAAecRV.jpg-large.jpeg” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Danbury principal Dan Donovan’s letter to students and parents explaining the CIAC’s decision to disqualify the school’s boys soccer team from the state tournament (via Dan Donovan on Twitter) Click for larger view.” captionposition=”left”]
“The hardest thing now is they have to go back and communicate to the kids, family and community that they aren’t going to the final,” Niehoff said. “The toughest thing is the emotional component. It will always be the kids that ultimately feel the repercussions to some degree.”
Both Niehoff and Salvestrini confirmed the information was originally reported by Shelton on Thursday evening. Shelton athletic director John Niski, via text, would not comment specifically on the information reported, referring all comment to Niehoff.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to play for the state championship,” Niski said via text. He had no further comment.
There is nothing in place for an appeals process, although Danbury principal Dan Donovan said in a public letter expressing his disappointment that he attempted to sway the CIAC’s ruling.
Salvestrini told Niehoff that this will be a topic discussed further at some point.
“Looking at it as a school district, we feel that rule is unjust because we are a digital school,” Salvestrini said. “Grades were accessible for that kid immediately following Nov. 4.”
It is the second time in as many years that a boys soccer team has been disqualified from the Class LL state tournament. Last year, Bridgeport Central’s spot in the CIAC semifinals was also forfeited due to a player’s ineligibility.
This is also the second event to drastically alter one of CIAC’s fall tournaments this season. The girls soccer tournaments were incorrectly seeded and had to be postponed just hours before the start of the Class LL and L first rounds, after teams had already traveled to their sites.
Update: This post has been updated with interviews and new information from an initial report.