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WIAA FOOTBALL

Madison Edgewood's football season is over. Why a judge said he can't change that

Madison Edgewood High School’s undefeated football season came to an apparent end Friday without a shot at a state title after a Dane County judge denied the school’s request to overturn a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association decision that found one of Edgewood’s players ineligible and stripped the school of its victories, including two playoff wins.

Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost said Edgewood, which sued the WIAA after the football team was disqualified Monday from the Division 4 playoffs, is unlikely to succeed in the lawsuit based on the initial filings and testimony he heard in the case, which was filed Thursday to give Edgewood a chance to compete this weekend.

Frost said Edgewood knew student-athlete Cameron Fane, a 19-year-old wide receiver on the team, was transferring to Edgewood in the spring semester of 2021, in his eighth semester of high school, even though the school classified him as being a second-semester junior, and despite that did not ask for a waiver that could have allowed Fane to play beyond his eighth semester.

The WIAA had only approved a waiver in March that let Fane transfer to Edgewood from a high school in Arlington, Texas, where his father and stepmother live, without having to sit out of varsity sports for a year.

Without a separate waiver allowing Fane to play beyond his eighth continuous semester of school, he was ineligible under WIAA rules.

Attorneys for Edgewood argued the WIAA rules are confusing as written, and they backed an assumption that not only did Fane get a transfer waiver, he had received a fifth-year waiver as well based on the way the residence transfer waiver rule is written.

“It’s regrettable that any of us are here today,” Frost said as he closed his remarks during the hearing, held by video conference. “Unfortunately it’s a bed that Edgewood made. That it got pointed out during the tournament is extremely unfortunate, but we deal with the facts we have here. The law is what it is, and the facts are what they are.”

No one has said why the issue came up now, or who brought it to the WIAA’s attention.

Edgewood President Mike Elliot said the school is “very disappointed” in the outcome.

“Neither Cam nor the Edgewood football team did anything wrong and do not deserve this type of treatment,” he said in a statement. “The team worked extremely hard and earned the right to play in Saturday night’s game and beyond. A technical error — raised nine months after the fact and that the team had no part in — should and could have been resolved earlier, and in a different manner. Our team did not deserve this penalty. Our school community did not deserve the scrutiny this accusation has caused.”

He wrote that he hopes the WIAA will “address the gray areas this case has highlighted” so no other team goes through what Edgewood did.

“As a community, we will come together to heal, and we will move forward,” he wrote. “But we will never be able to correct the injustice our excellent 2021 football team and our entire school community have had to endure.”

WIAA communications director Todd Clark in an email Friday wrote: “As the case still may be pending, we will not be issuing a statement.”

Edgewood sued the WIAA on Thursday ahead of a WIAA hearing during which the organization’s Board of Control denied Edgewood’s appeal of sanctions imposed against it, which included vacating all of Edgewood’s wins this season, including its playoff victories.

In its lawsuit, Edgewood maintained it had cleared Fane with the WIAA in the spring, granting Fane a residence and transfer waiver after submitting documentation of extenuating circumstances allowing a variance from usual WIAA rules.

But on Monday, the WIAA ruled Fane was ineligible to play because Edgewood had not sought or been granted a fifth-year eligibility waiver for Fane.

The WIAA accused Edgewood in court documents of trying to “dress up” its previously-approved residence and transfer waiver for Fane as a fifth-year eligibility waiver in an effort to mislead the WIAA.

As a sanction for the apparent violation, the WIAA stripped Edgewood of its 40-0 win in the Division 4 playoffs over Kewaskum and all 11 of its wins this season. Instead, Kewaskum will play Columbus in the state quarterfinals Saturday at 7 p.m.

Middleton-Sun Prairie football showdown highlights WIAA quarterfinal playoff matchups

Frost heard testimony from only two witnesses Friday — Wade Labecki, former deputy director of the WIAA, and Edgewood athletic director Chris Zwettler.

Edgewood attorney Naikang Tsao grilled Labecki extensively about the content of the waiver rules, arguing that the rule under which Fane was granted a transfer waiver also contained language that effectively granted him eligibility beyond his eighth semester of high school.

Fane had attended Madison West in the fall semester of his freshman year, then moved to Arlington, Texas, where he attended Juan Seguin High School for the next six semesters.

But Labecki was adamant that the fifth-year waiver is an entirely different procedure, one that Edgewood never requested. He said some information was missing from the application for the residence and transfer waiver, but he approved it nonetheless.

“If I could go back and do it over I probably wouldn’t approve it,” Labecki said. “There was too much missing information.”

Zwettler testified he never applied for a fifth-year waiver for Fane because it “never occurred to me I might have to.” He said he had never sought one in more than 30 years as athletic director, though he had handled at least 80 transfer waivers in his time. He said he didn’t believe he had misled the WIAA in any aspect of his handling of Fane’s waiver request.

To graduate from Edgewood, Fane needed two semesters of religious education and 30 hours of community service, in addition to Fane’s own goal of improving his grades so he could attend college. That’s why despite heading into his second semester as a senior, he was placed at Edgewood as a junior, Zwettler testified.

After asking the WIAA for “unrestricted” eligibility for Fane, he said, “I thought we were greenlighted,” Zwettler said. “When I read it, I got excited for him.”

Asked by Frost why he didn’t think the eight-semester rule applied to Fane, Zwettler said he was working off the information that Fane was a six-semester junior.

“It truly never occurred to me,” he said.

For clarity, Frost asked again whether Zwettler did not intend to ask the WIAA to waive the eight-semester rule, because it did not apply to Fane.

“Yes,” Zwettler responded.

Still, he took the WIAA’s letter granting Fane a residence and transfer waiver as granting “unrestricted eligibility.”

“I went right to the meat of it,” Zwettler said of the letter. “I just took it that he was going to be eligible for spring and for 2021-22, in my mind.”

In his ruling, Frost said Edgewood never clearly said Fane was entering Edgewood during his eighth semester of high school.

“If you really wanted to ask for a waiver of the eight-semester limitation,” Frost said, “you would actually have to talk about the fact that this person had completed or was completing eight semesters and was going to be back in high school for a ninth or tenth semester. Edgewood never did that.”

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