High school football: Guthrie's Rafe Watkins ready to get out of the stands and back on the sideline
Guthrie coach Rafe Watkins has spent enough time watching his team from the bleachers. The coach returns to the sidelines this week after an eight-game banishment because of an OSSAA issue.
GUTHRIE — No one had any better seat for Guthrie High's past few home games than Rafe Watkins.
Midfield. Third row. Even a coveted chair back.
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Class 5A No. 1 Guthrie (4-0) at Western Heights (0-4)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Western Heights High School, 8201 SW 44, Oklahoma City
Scouting report: Guthrie QB Bryan Dutton has thrown for 482 yards and nine TDs and run for 321 yards and seven scores. ... Conner Howard has four interceptions for Guthrie. ... The 27 points Western Heights scored last week were 20 more than it had scored in any other game this season.
Watkins hated it.
He had nothing against the view. The people around him were fine, too. That prime seat inside Jelsma Stadium just wasn't where he wanted to be during games.
The football coach who built a powerhouse prep program at Guthrie was banned from the sidelines for the past eight games. He watched from the stands after a highly publicized saga with the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association's board of directors. Guthrie had used a player last season who'd never made a bona fide move into the district, and the team was on the verge of having to forfeit those games and miss the playoffs. Watkins threw himself at the mercy of that OSSAA court in an attempt to save the season.
Darned if it didn't work.
Watkins was suspended and Guthrie went on to win the Class 5A state championship while he watched from the stands.
Now, his suspension is over.
“I am ready to get back,” he said last Friday night as his top-ranked Bluejays warmed up. “That's why we do this ... for the Friday nights. I love during the weeks. I love practice. Even though it's fun to do all that other, this ... “
He glanced around Jelsma Stadium.
“ ... is what you miss.”
The thing is, Friday nights weren't the only thing Watkins traded for his team's spot in the playoffs. His offer to the board cost him more than that.
* * *
Rafe Watkins decided he had to do something.
Sitting in that board of directors' meeting last November, he had a bad feeling about the fate of his football team. Watkins and other Guthrie administrators had explained what had happened — how Clint Simek and his family had moved to Guthrie from Prague, how Watkins had completed and submitted a New Student form to the OSSAA and how he had assumed that form put Simek and Guthrie in compliance.
Turned out, a Resident Affirmation form should've been completed. That would've included the family's plans for its old home, proof that it had completely moved out, and a contract or lease for a residence in its new school district.
Watkins admitted he messed up.
But after nearly four hours of testimony and deliberation, the board ruled Simek ineligible.
Watkins feared his team was next.
That's when he stood up and asked for mercy.
“Suspend me from the playoffs,” he said, “if these kids can play.”
The board agreed, suspending Watkins for eight games, the same number of games as Simek had played while ineligible, and allowing Guthrie to continue its season in the playoffs.
The successful appeal resonated all around the state.
In Guthrie, the news spread quickly via radio broadcast and social media. Kai Callins, then a sophomore speedster, remembers seeing on Twitter that his coach had been suspended but that his season wasn't over.
“Every high school football player wants to win a state championship,” Callins said. “He just gave us an opportunity to live our dreams.”
A coach who was already beloved for taking over a program that had eight consecutive losing seasons before he arrived and winning two state titles in his first seven seasons became even more revered in Guthrie.
The reaction in other parts of the state wasn't quite as positive.
Many angry fans aired their grievances on websites and message boards. There were cries of injustice because the OSSAA rules state that games must be forfeited if an ineligible player is used. There were charges of cronyism since then-Guthrie superintendent Terry Simpson was on the board of directors. (He didn't sit on the board or vote the day of Guthrie's appeal.)