Ringling still has a chance to win its second straight Class A football championship.
One day after the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association ruled senior Ryan Lester ineligible but kept the top-ranked Blue Devils in the title game, Ringling dropped its planned appeal Wednesday morning.
The decision keeps the top-ranked Blue Devils facing No. 2 Hollis at 7 p.m. Thursday in Cache.
But they will be without Lester, a wide receiver and defensive back who will be on the sideline but not in a jersey.
“The cloud’s lifted,” Ringling superintendent Rick Hatfield said. “We feel bad for Ryan and we hate to see that happen, but he’s going to be there to cheer us on.
“At least with the cloud lifted, we’re going to go ahead and play, and that helps.”
OSSAA executive director Ed Sheakley said the plan remains to revisit the issue in January, where it’s possible more sanctions could be posed to the school, but he has no plans to recommend forfeitures or financial restitution.
That alone is a change for the OSSAA, which in the past has suspended coaches, forced teams to forfeit games and even imposed financial penalties on schools for similar violations.
“It’s kind of been a shift in our philosophy a little bit,” Sheakley said. “In this situation, we’ve got a bunch of kids involved who have worked hard to get to this point and we just felt the penalty didn’t fit the situation when taking everything into account.”
Sheakley said the timeliness of the issue was a huge factor in the staff’s decision.
The OSSAA received an anonymous letter early last week alerting it of an ineligible player at Ringling. The OSSAA immediately opened an investigation, where it was discovered that Lester repeated the eighth grade after attending Zaneis Public Schools in Wilson. He did not sit out the required year in accordance with Rule 7 of the organization’s rule book.
“I don’t believe that someone just came upon this information and submitted it to us, but again that’s just my opinion,” Sheakley said. “I don’t have anything to go on other than an assumption.”
Sheakley also said preventive procedures were not in place when Lester enrolled at Ringling during a period that involved changes in school administration, possibly allowing the violation to go unnoticed.
The OSSAA staff also considered recent Supreme Court rulings that were unfavorable, including one in October that ruled the organization took arbitrary and capricious actions against the Sequoyah-Tahlequah football team in interpreting and enforcing its rules.
In that case, it was determined Sequoyah-Tahlequah players participated in individual camps paid for by the school the OSSAA forced the school to forfeit nine games last season and ruled 12 players ineligible. It also severely limited the team’s involvement in offseason workouts and scrimmages and suspended coach Brent Scott. Later, 11 players were reinstated.
But Sheakley has no plans to pose sanctions of that magnitude on Ringling.
“We have made our determination,” he said. “If the board wants to review this, they could, but no one has said (otherwise). They understand the decision that we made and no one is asking for a review.”
It’s a decision Ringling and the Lester family will live with moving forward.
“It was the parents’ decision to withdraw it so it didn’t jeopardize the play of the rest of the kids,” Hatfield said. “It was just to allow the game to go on as scheduled. We’ll accept the ruling on the waiver.”