By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Catholic Central baseball team is used to winning most of its games, and that’s been the case again this spring.

But the Crusaders are currently two games below .500, because they recently had to forfeit four victories for inadvertently using an ineligible player.

The forfeited victories came in the first six games of the season. So technically the Crusaders started the season with an 0-6 record. They are currently 6-8.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for a team that won the Division 4 state championship two years ago, and made the state quarterfinals last season.

“They were pretty quiet about it – no big reaction,” said MCC Coach Steve Schuitema, when asked how the players reacted to the news. “The part that I found encouraging was that nobody blamed the kid (who was ruled ineligible). He didn’t know. He had nothing to do with it, and the kids realize that.

“We’re fine, we’re just moving forward. Hopefully we can win our conference and do well in the state tournament. Most of our goals are still intact.”

The ineligible player transferred to MCC from another local school in November, and MCC officials neglected to send a form to the Michigan High School Athletic Association, seeking permission for him to play baseball in the spring, according to MCC President Ken Rasp.

Without that permission, the school violated an MSHAA rule that says, “Student transferred between fourth Friday after Labor Day and fourth Friday of February without a full and complete residency change is ineligible until August 1.”

The ineligible player participated in two MCC victories over Newaygo, one over Reeths-Puffer and one over Holton. All four games were forfeited after MCC realized its error and turned itself into the MHSAA.

“The young man came to us in November as a transfer student,” Rasp said. “At that point in time, we should have filed a special form with MHSAA with reasons for the transfer, and we did not do that.

“Somebody saw him play, knew the rules, called us and raised the question about his eligibility, which was why we started to research the situation.

“I asked the athletic director to approach the coach and the student and put his playing status on hold, then we found out that indeed he was ineligible. We were required to inform the schools we played and forfeit those games.

“Our goal from the beginning of this was to do the right thing.”

The failure to turn in the proper paperwork to the MHSAA was a clerical oversight, according to Rasp. The MHSAA is currently reviewing the situation, and the player may still be ruled eligible to play later in the season, he said.

But the forfeits are final, and will remain a part of MCC’s record.

Instead of reacting with frustration or anger about the forfeits, Rasp said the school accepts the consequences of its error.

“Clearly this wasn’t done with intent – oversight is a good word to use,” Rasp said. “We’re a member of the MHSAA. By being a member we agree to a set of rules and requirements, and we agree to adhere to them. In this situation, if we would have submitted the paperwork on time, it’s possible that he may have been ruled eligible, but we didn’t do that.

“The bottom line is, we’re happy to be part of the MHSAA, and if we find an instance where we’re not following the rules, we’re going to step forward and accept responsibility.”

The good news for the team is that it didn’t have to forfeit any league games, so it’s bid for a Lakes 8 Conference championship won’t be affected.

But school officials still felt awful about a clerical error impacting the team, and the players and parents received an apology, Rasp said.

“For student-athletes who won those games, and don’t see those wins, it’s not an easy thing,” Rasp said. “These are young kids. The good thing is we caught it very early in the season, so it will have no impact on their effort to win a conference title or state championship.

“Internally, someone approached the players and apologized, and the parents all received a letter from me.”