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Why Madison Edgewood football was forced to forfeit season and why it is suing to keep playing
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Why Madison Edgewood football was forced to forfeit season and why it is suing to keep playing

Edgewood High School and one of its student-athletes sued the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association on Thursday over the WIAA’s finding Monday that Edgewood had an ineligible player on the team during the football season and must forfeit all 11 wins this season and won’t be allowed to compete in this weekend’s state quarterfinal against Columbus.

While most WIAA football programs have opted to play a shortened fall schedule due to COVID-19, most Madison-area high schools — including the entire Big Eight Conference and every Rock Valley Conference school except Madison Edgewood — have committed to an alternative spring season, leaving their stadiums eerily empty this fall.

Edgewood is demanding that wide receiver Cameron Fane be reinstated by the WIAA and that the court find that Edgewood did not play the season with an ineligible player, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Dane County Circuit Court along with an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.

Edgewood filed an appeal of the WIAA’s initial decision with the WIAA, but the WIAA denied the appeal Thursday morning.

“We recognize that this is an unfortunate situation for all involved, and we share in everyone’s disappointment with the circumstances; however, the WIAA has the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the rules of education-based athletics as established by the member schools,” the WIAA said in a statement denying Edgewood’s appeal. “In matters like this, it is important to note that all schools are afforded due process to ensure the member rules are being applied as written.”

After Thursday’s WIAA appeal was denied, Edgewood issued a statement addressing the corresponding lawsuit.

“We want to make it clear that this dispute is purely administrative, and in no way represents an error on Cam’s part,” the statement said. “We are immensely proud not only of how Cam has handled himself during this very difficult situation, but of all the hard work he has done and the commitment he has made to Edgewood, his teammates and the entire school community. Cam is an asset to our community, and we are blessed to have him.”

Fane has not recorded any receiving stats in either of Edgewood’s two postseason wins after posting 39 receptions for 662 yards and nine touchdowns through nine regular-season games. He also ran 25 times for 279 yards and four TDs.

Kewaskum, which lost to Edgewood in the second round of the state playoffs last week, is now scheduled to play Columbus in Saturday’s state quarterfinals barring a reversal by the court.

The judge presiding over the case agreed to hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

The lawsuit also demands a court ruling that Edgewood would have won the games it played this season even without Fane’s participation and that Edgewood may continue to compete in the WIAA football playoffs.

“(Edgewood) will be irreparably harmed if WIAA’s decision is allowed to stand,” the lawsuit says. “Edgewood, its players, its students and its community cannot get this football season back. Edgewood has won all of its games and deserves the thrill of a state title run and the opportunity to win a championship. If plaintiffs are denied the opportunity for this team to play in this year’s playoffs, the opportunity cannot be returned.”

The school and its students already have been harmed, the lawsuit says, because they “have been excoriated on social media as cheaters and rule-breakers.”

That’s unfair, the lawsuit asserts, because Edgewood didn’t seek an unfair advantage, lie or hide facts from the WIAA.

“Yet WIAA’s statement that Edgewood must forfeit victories because it used an allegedly ineligible player wrongly and falsely implies that Edgewood did one or more of those things,” the lawsuit says.

The WIAA, in a response filed in court Thursday, said Edgewood sought and received one type of eligibility waiver for Fane earlier this year, but did not seek the type of waiver that would have extended the length of Fane’s eligibility for high school athletics beyond four years, which the WIAA said had expired. The WIAA accused Edgewood of attempting to mislead the WIAA when it sought a waiver of transfer rules for Fane, instead of one that would have extended his athletics eligibility.

“Edgewood has unclean hands, and actions have consequences,” the WIAA’s response says. “WIAA rules and equity require that the student-athletes that Edgewood displaced by using an ineligible player be restored to tournament play in their place.”

The response also states: “While Edgewood’s season is at an unfortunate end, its team cannot be allowed to benefit from the conduct of those who chose to conceal the true nature of Mr. Fane’s waiver request and to play him against their opponents when they knew he was ineligible.”

In March, according to Edgewood’s lawsuit, Edgewood was granted residence and transfer requirement waivers from the WIAA on behalf of Fane by Wade Labecki, who at the time was deputy director of the WIAA.

Fane started high school at Madison West in 2017 but transferred to Juan Seguin High School in Arlington, Texas, in the spring of 2018 because his father and stepmother lived in Arlington. He continued to attend Seguin through the first semester of the 2020-21 school year.

But Fane, unhappy with his home life and with grades that suffered as a result, moved back to Wisconsin when he turned 18. Edgewood enrolled Fane in its 2022 graduating class as a second-semester junior, entering Fane in his sixth semester of high school.

The lawsuit says he has done much better academically since transferring.

WIAA rules state that a student who transfers after the student’s sixth consecutive semester following entry into ninth grade is ineligible for athletic competition for one calendar year, unless the transfer is necessitated by the student’s parents relocating.

But the residence and transfer requirement can be waived with extenuating circumstances.

Undefeated season

Edgewood athletic director Chris Zwettler cited such circumstances when he applied to the WIAA for a waiver so Fane could play sports in the spring semester of the 2020-21 school year. He submitted a number of documents with the application, including letters from Fane, his coach in Texas and his mother, as well as Fane’s school transcript.

Zwettler and Labecki corresponded over email about the application for about a month before Labecki told Edgewood the WIAA was granting the waiver, and based its decision on “the documented extenuating circumstances you have made us aware of.”

Edgewood, which competes in the Rock Valley Conference, finished the football season undefeated and won two WIAA Division 4 playoff games, the last a 40-0 rout of Kewaskum on Oct. 29.

Then Mel Dow, the WIAA’s associate director, informed Zwettler on Monday that Fane was ineligible to play football and that Edgewood, as a sanction, must forfeit the win against Kewaskum as well as the previous 10 wins this season. Edgewood was told Fane was ineligible because Edgewood did not fill out the WIAA’s Fifth Year Waiver Form, the lawsuit says.

The WIAA, in its response to the lawsuit, accused Edgewood of attempting to mislead the WIAA. Fane had completed eight consecutive semesters of high school at the end of the 2020-21 school year, which used up his high school athletic eligibility under WIAA rules.

Waiver possible

The WIAA may grant a waiver for a fifth year when extenuating circumstances exist, the WIAA’s response says, but that’s not what Edgewood sought while Fane was still within his eight consecutive semesters. The WIAA says Fane applied for and received a transfer waiver that only gave Fane immediate varsity eligibility by waiving the one calendar year waiting period that generally follows a transfer.

“After the student-athlete completed eight consecutive semesters, Edgewood was well aware of the fact that a waiver from the eight consecutive semester limit was required if they intended to play him further,” the WIAA’s response says.

“Edgewood is now trying to dress up the previously approved transfer waiver as a fifth-year eligibility waiver,” though the two waivers have different forms and procedures. “Edgewood is well aware of this and attempted to mislead the WIAA in applying for the transfer waiver in hopes of using it as a fifth-year waiver if and when they were called out.”

Edgewood appealed the findings to the WIAA’s Board of Control, under procedures set in the WIAA Handbook, but the handbook doesn’t allow Edgewood to appeal the forfeiture of its playoff win over Kewaskum. The rules don’t allow the board to hear appeals of playoff forfeitures issued due to a player’s ineligibility, the lawsuit says.

“The appeal to the Board of Control is therefore hollow,” the lawsuit says. “Even if the Board of Control were to reverse WIAA’s finding that Cameron is ineligible or that Edgewood must forfeit regular-season games, the Handbook does not allow the Board of Control to reverse the forfeiture of the Kewaskum playoff victory.”

Beaver Dam Daily Citizen reporter Dan Larson contributed to this report.

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