Wright City is back in the Class A state baseball tournament, but at a cost.
The school won its appeal with the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association on Tuesday when the board of directors voted 7-6 to issue a warning to the school and recommend a lengthy suspension for coach Kyle Butler.
Butler will miss the remainder of this season and first semester next year, which includes the fall season.
“I'm embarrassed,” Butler said during the appeal. “It's a mistake that I've made. ... I ask you guys consider punishing me, not my kids.”
Wright City and Sterling will play their quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Thursday in Byng. The semifinals and championship will be played Saturday at a site to be determined Wednesday.
The OSSAA had three punishment options after Friday's Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling on the case: suspend Wright City, place it on probation or issue a warning. The latter was the only one that allowed the school to remain in the tournament, and it also ended the legal battle.
“Elated,” Wright City attorney Kevin Sain said about the outcome. “This has been a good experience here and I really feel like the board has done the right thing in what they've done.”
But even with the punishment decided, there is still a long road for the OSSAA and the schools involved.
Wright City was forced to forfeit its state tournament quarterfinal on April 30 after it was determined it had exceeded the 22-game limit by two, but the school received an injunction in McCurtain County on May 1.
The first day of the tournament was postponed due to rain, and the first three games were played the next day as the McCurtain County court upheld the injunction following a hearing, postponing the tournament and forcing the OSSAA to appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court finally ruled that both sides erred in a lengthy court battle and lifted the injunction to send the appeal back to the OSSAA board. It also ruled that executive director Ed Sheakley and the OSSAA staff did not have the authority to independently investigate and rule on cases without the board of directors, according to its constitution.
However, the OSSAA also addressed that Tuesday following Wright City's appeal by voting unanimously to approve a policy that allows Sheakley and the staff to act for the board in those cases. Once a punishment is handed out, an appeal can still be made to the board.
The OSSAA is compiling a list of past punishments for certain situations, but it still has the right to issue different punishments.
And that came into play Tuesday.
Sain pointed out that Yukon would have exceeded the limit of games during the regular season if it would have advanced to the finals after completing pool play in the Best of the West Tournament, and that the school was not punished, though the OSSAA ruled it did not exceed the limits. OSSAA officials said Yukon checked with them before the tournament and was aware of the rule. Yukon, though, was eliminated in the semifinals.
But that is exactly the type of example the OSSAA is looking to avoid in the future .
“I think the board was trying to find some type of a ground that would allow it to go on,” Sheakley said. “but also a situation where a message needs to be sent to those that are responsible is that you're getting paid to be a head coach and part of your job, part of you responsibility is you better know the rules. And if you don't know the rules and when you put young men's participation in jeopardy, that's a very serious offense.”
Wright City, though, now has an issue during the fall season. The school does not employ an assistant coach, likely leaving high school principal and girls basketball coach Mike Converse as the likely substitute for Butler. Superintendent David Hawkins even said he may coach some, though he has never coached at the high school level.
There is also the issue of working around conflicts for players involved on all teams left in the state tournament.
Rattan will be without outfielder Brandon Jones, who has already reported to the Army. Wright City too has players out right now, with three starters on vacation.
Still, the ruling was considered a win by both parties.
“When you take all of those in consideration, we wanted to have a Class A state baseball tournament,” Sheakley said. “I think the board struggled today on what would be an appropriate sanction versus what happened, and also looking back at other situations on what we've done.
“This thing has drawn out long enough.”