Last season's MAIS 8-man state champion Russell Christian Academy is in danger of forfeiting its championship and all wins from its 2012-13 football and basketball seasons after self reporting an ineligible-player violation to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools officials on Thursday.
“This was an oversight,” RCA head coach Nate Ballard said. “Nobody knew anything about this. I found out about it this morning and reported it right away. We know what the people in the news and in the community are going to say, that Russell cheated, but we didn't cheat. We were told this kid was eligible, and we thought we played an eligible player.
“It was a tough phone call to make, but we care more about the integrity of our school and our staff than we do about a state championship.”
The ineligible player was held back during his sophomore year at a Lauderdale County public school before transferring to RCA his junior year. After previously playing three years of high school football, he enrolled at RCA with one year of athletic eligibility remaining.
The student played basketball for the Warriors his junior year. However, the student was erroneously cleared to play his senior season when he was ineligible, Ballard said.
Last season RCA earned its first state title in school history when the Warriors capped off a 13-0 season by beating Calhoun Academy 29-28 in the MAIS 8-man State Championship. The Warriors also posted a 22-7 (9-3) record in basketball. All wins, including the state championship are expected to be forfeited. RCA departed from the MAIS to join the Alabama Independent School Association prior to the 2013 season. The school notified both organizations of the infraction Wednesday morning and is awaiting a final decision on the matter later this week.
“Once we get the ruling from the MAIS, I am almost positive they are going to make us forfeit, which is the right thing to do,” Ballard said. “I'm going to carry the trophy to Calhoun myself and give it to them.”
Editor's note: Given that the ineligible player at Russell Christian was not responsible for the infraction, The Meridian Star chose not to name the athlete. Comments or concerns can be directed to The Star editor Michael Stewart at email@example.com or by calling 601-693-1551, extension 3213.