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Monday, Sept. 12, 2016: Good intentions and unfortunate consequences

   Leading off today: I've written and then rewritten the majority of this blog too many times to count over the past week. At one time the three components were all going to be separate and smaller blog entries, likely tucked into some of the frequent updates throughout the week.

   At some juncture, however, I realized that a theme had developed and in some fashion connected the topics. That theme can be summed up as "their heart may have been in the right place, but ..."

   NYSPHSAA issues memo: The proverbial light bulb went off over my head early last week when I read a story in The Daily Messenger, a Canandaigua paper covering schools and communities in the northern Finger Lakes.

   The newspaper reported Sept. 5 that Duane and Kristine Hutt had come up with what seemed to be a unique way to honor the memory of their son Tyler in a fashion that would benefit a worthwhile charity.

   Tyler, 17, died of a pulmonary embolism while being treated for pneumonia two years ago just ahead of what would have been his senior football season. Soon after, family and friends created the TylerStrong Foundation to give back to worthy causes. Their efforts have already resulted in $13,000 in scholarships and donations being awarded, the paper reported.

   Included in the story was a note that the foundation intended to donate $50 to the pediatric intensive care unit at Golisano Children's Hospital in Rochester for every touchdown the Victor football team scores this fall. Given that the Blue Devils are off to a 2-0 start, will likely begin the season fairly high in the state rankings on Wednesday and could make a long playoff run, they might be capable of ringing up quite a few TDs this fall and raising $2,500 or more.

   And that's where the trouble began. Pay per play, for lack of a better term, turns out to be a no-no. Seeing the newspaper story that day reminded me I'd seen a reference to such situations either on the NYSPHSAA website or in one of its publications a while ago. On top of that, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas wrote this on Twitter late last month as one of several reminders to the membership:

   With that in mind, I contacted Victor AD Ron Whitcomb early last week and advised him there might be a problem that would be better cleaned up now (if necessary) rather than a week into sectionals or the NYSPHSAA playoffs, where eligibility questions might come into play. Whitcomb told me that he thought the Hutts' initiative was within the rules since the money was going straight to a charitable organization and he also confirmed that the district supported the effort. But he also said that he was going to check with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association just to be sure.

   That turned out to be prudent. On Friday, Zayas sent a memo to executive directors of the association's 11 sections to advise them that such fundraising campaigns were specifically prohibited according to the NYSPHSAA handbook.

   As it turns out, the state office had also been receiving inquiries about a separate charitable program. MaxPreps, the online high school website operated by CBS Sports Digital property, and online sports fundraising outfit Pledge It are collaborating nationally with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on "Touchdowns Against Cancer."

   In that program, football teams can register to collect pledges based on the number of touchdowns scored from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1. As of this morning, four NYSPHSAA schools -- Bishop Grimes, Cato-Meridian, Wantagh and Yonkers Montessori Academy -- had signed up for the St. Jude's fundraiser. (Fordham Prep of the CHSAA is also registered but is not affected since the rule in question is a NYSPHSAA matter rather than State Education Department policy.)

   In his memo on Friday, Zayas wrote that such programs ran contrary to a clause in the handbook definition of "Conducting a Contest" along the lines of what he had tweeted: football site

   "NYSPHSAA certainly supports efforts to raise money for St. Jude and other needed causes; however 'donations based upon the outcome of student performance' (i.e. touchdowns scored) is not permitted within the NYSPHSAA rules. At this time, the membership of the Association has not expressed any interest in revising or amending this longstanding regulation. The purpose of this regulation is to avoid student-athletes, coaches and teams being focused on running up the score during a game in an effort to increase donations for their selected cause.

   "Please know, other fundraising platforms can be utilized to raise money for St. Jude and other causes, which are not specifically based on the outcome of student performance."

   If the idea of running up a score for the sake of charity seems absurd, it probably isn't. Back in the mid-1980s, New York State Sportswriters Association editor Neil Kerr went on a lengthy campaign against certain schools that seemed focused on running up big margins for the sake of maintaining their place in the state football rankings -- something a lot less noble than raising money for charity.

   Duration of competition rule: It's understandable that the announcement early this month out of the office of State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was met with applause from many observers in Western New York.

   With the family of Orchard Park football player Jacob Kohler having filed an appeal to her office, Elia ruled that the fifth-year senior could practice and play pending a ruling at a future date. Kohler's story is a feel-good tale of a young man whose autism held him back in many aspects of life as a youth.

   Through enormous hard work, he first ran cross country for his high school team and then made the switch to football. His determination and focus had residual effects, helping him improve in the classroom and socially even if his results on the field were inconsequential to the final scores of contests. He needs this fifth year of high school in order to catch up academically and graduate, but he's only 18 years old and now seems to have a promising future ahead.

   Who'd want to deny the young man the opportunity to keep playing, right?

   Well, the problem here is that once Elia examines the details of the appeal in greater depth, the Kohler family is going to be up against black-letter law from Elia's own New York State Education Department, whose regulations bound the NYSPHSAA.

[ Continued on Page 2 ]

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