TWINSBURG — While the Ohio High School Athletic Association has issued unspecified sanctions against soccer officials who officiated a Nov. 6, 2018, state semifinal girls soccer game between Twinsburg and Strongsville, the OHSAA ruled that Strongsville did not play an extra player "intentionally" for more than 6 minutes in the game, won by Strongsville 1-0.
According to results of the investigation, OHSAA commissioner Jerry Snodgrass "determined that the evidence he gathered indicated that the extra player was not played intentionally by the Strongsville coaching staff" and that the game officials would receive sanctions for missing the extra player.
Tim Stried, a spokesperson for the OHSAA, refused to specify the number of officials being sanctioned or the nature of the sanctions.
"We have almost 15,000 licensed officials in Ohio. We train them and then have to trust their ability and judgement in games," Stried said. "When sanctions are imposed on an official, we do not share the specific details of those sanctions."
Twinsburg school officials say they remain disappointed in the apparent lack of scope and due process in the OHSAA investigation.
"Although the Twinsburg City School District appreciated the opportunity to meet with representatives from the OHSAA and the Strongsville City School District, we question the limited scope of the OHSAA's investigation of my Nov. 27, 2018 formal complaint," Twinsburg City School District Superintendent Katherine Powers said. "In particular, I am disappointed the OHSAA's representatives chose not to interview any individuals from the Twinsburg City School District, including Head Coach [John] Garber."
Powers added that "it was clear at the March 18 meeting that representatives from the Strongsville City School District had multiple opportunities to share their perspectives with [OHSAA] Commissioner Snodgrass and potentially other representatives from the OHSAA during the investigation."
"I believe it was that organization’s responsibility to be objective and equitable in its investigation, and I am concerned that a full and complete investigation did not occur," Powers said. "It is the district’s sincere belief that the OHSAA owes Coach Garber and our Lady Tigers an apology for the role its officials played in the disappointing way the Lady Tigers’ history-making season ended."
Strongsville City School District officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The Twinsburg City School District filed a formal complaint with the OHSAA Nov. 27, 2018, alleging "improper conduct" and an intentional violation of OHSAA bylaws by the Strongsville Mustangs in Strongsville’s 1-0 state semifinal victory over Twinsburg.
Calling the Strongsville team’s actions in playing 12 players (11 are allowed) for a 6 minute and 20 second stretch in the second half a "strategy and not a mistake," the Nov. 27 complaint cites a similar allegation made against the Strongsville team in the 2017-18 season by the Medina City School District.
According to the complaint, the Strongsville coach had three opportunities to pull the extra player — which Twinsburg alleges was substituted into the game without a necessary "pinny" and without reporting to the referee — from the field during the game, but failed do so until Twinsburg subbed in its own player.
The complaint alleges that during this "distraction" of common shift changes, the Strongsville team subbed out two players and only substituted in one player.
"Although one would like to believe that Strongsville’s use of 12 players for a substantial part of the game was an innocent mistake, the circumstances of the Nov. 6, 2018 match, and the fact that at least one other team has come forward to report that Strongsville used 12 players in a game, suggests that Strongsville’s use of 12 players was a strategy, not a mistake," the complaint states.
Strongsville would go on to lose the state championship against Beavercreek 4-2 Nov. 9.
In addition, the complaint filed by Twinsburg states that OHSAA’s bylaws prevent justifiable recourse by school districts in such cases, as the OHSAA employs "collective punishment" against schools pursuing legal remedies, "improperly penalizing student athletes and preventing a school board from pursuing its legal rights."
Had the Twinsburg district filed an injunction in the matter, according to Twinsburg school officials, the OHSAA could have stripped the Twinsburg team of its regional and district titles from this year.
Powers said that Kathleen Coughlin, director of sport management from the OHSAA, will meet with the soccer coaching staff and team April 11 to answer questions. The district will advocate for several changes to the OHSAA's procedures based upon the circumstances that occurred during the Nov. 6 game. Those changes include:
• Mandating that all officiants at state tournament games be assigned by OHSAA, and be assigned by merit;
• Instituting a process for documenting the administration of yellow cards;
• Requiring that pinnies be worn for all player substitutions;
• Enforcing rules limiting the number of people with access to the sidelines; and
• Ensuring that OHSAA "objectively and equitably investigate formal complaints."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, email@example.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC