Adults and administrators drop ball in high school football forfeit

Dave DeLuca, Sports Editor

When it comes to covering sports, I’ve always had a passion for covering high school football. I know, it’s not the most glamorous job. It involves braving bitter temperatures, rain and sometimes, even snow. Public relations directors are non existent. There isn’t a professional stats crew. Most press boxes don’t have Wifi (high fives and chest bumps to you, Lockport).

It’s not the pros. Far from it. Yet, there really isn’t a place I’d rather be working on a Friday night. It’s football without distractions. It’s not a multimillion dollar business. It isn’t built around self centered superstars that feel like they’re bigger than the game.

It’s football in its purest form.

So when Aquinas Institute, a small private school in Rochester, New York, had to forfeit its playoff win over Pitsford, it was a rare black cloud that became a hot topic throughout the state.

On Monday, Oct. 27, Aquinas was eliminated from the Section V playoffs for using an ineligible player. That ineligible player just so happens to be arguably the best quarterback in the state, Jake Zembiec. Zembiec, the reigning Class AA Player of the Year, broke his wrist in Aquinas’ second game of the season and returned to action in the Little Irish’s quarterfinal playoff game against Pittsford.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association states that a player must be an eligible participant for three regular season games to be eligible to play in the playoffs.

Aquinas athletic director Anthony Bianchi told reporters at a press conference held at Aquinas that Section V chairman Dick Cerone told him prior to Aquinas’ Week 7 game against St. Francis that Zembiec just needed a doctors note to be eligible for postseason play.

And that’s where the miscommunication began.

Zembiec was cleared to play by doctors on Oct. 14. Cerone assumed that Zembiec would play against St. Francis. Zembiec practiced all week, but head coach Chris Battaglia kept him out of the game to give him one more week to recover. Zembiec stood on the sidelines in street clothes.

And that decision, the decision not to play Zembiec, made him ineligible and eventually, cost Aquinas a shot at winning its second straight state championship. And it wasn’t because of anything that happened on the field. It was because adults failed.

Adults at Aquinas should have known better. Unfortunately, it’s the players that will have to suffer. It’s the seniors that will have to accept that their high school football careers are over and it’s not because of something that happened on the field.

It stinks that it had to come to that. But that’s part of the consequences when a rule is broken. A rule, whether you agree with it or not, was broken and Aquinas, not anybody else, is at fault.

Even if Bianchi feels that the miscommunication between himself and Cerone is the problem, it’s not. Bianchi should have explored other measures to make sure Zembiac would be okay for postseason play. But, he didn’t. He relied on a phone call.

Aquinas made even more waves when they filed a lawsuit. State Supreme Court Justice J. Scott Odorisi finally decided shortly after 4 p.m. on Friday that Section V acted appropriately and Aquinas was out of the playoffs. A player from Aquinas posted a picture on twitter of his teammates glued to their phones waiting for any indication of a decision.

If Aquinas would have applied for a medical waiver, none of this would have happened. You’d think the athletic director at a highly-decorated, athletic powerhouse like Aquinas would have been on top of something like this. You’d think he would have explored all of the options to ensure Zembiac could be on the field. Instead, Aquinas wants to act like they’re the victim.

“We did nothing wrong,” Aquinas president Michael Daley told the Democrat and Chronicle.

Well…uhm…if you broke the rules, that’s wrong. Own up to it and take responsibility. Aquinas’ administrators told reporters that if Aquinas wasn’t involved it wouldn’t be an issue. They made it plain and clear that this was a situation because it involved Zembiac, a high-profile player who has scholarship offers from Michigan State, Penn State and Oklahoma State, to name a few.

No, Aquinas. You made a mistake and Section V did its job to solve it.

To make themselves look even worse, Aquinas couldn’t provide proof that Zembiac was cleared for the Week 7 game against St. Francis, even though prior to court, they said that Zembiac was cleared. Was he really cleared? Or wasn’t he? The facts don’t add up and Aquinas, who feels like they’re the victim, can only blame themselves for this mess.

As adults, administrators and coaches at Aquinas had a responsibility, and they failed.