PINCKNEYVILLE — Just hours before they were scheduled to start what they thought would be a long postseason run at the Class 2A Du Quoin Regional on Tuesday, Pinckeyville’s volleyball team found out their season was over.
The Illinois High School Association removed the Panthers from its State Series after ruling that they violated Bylaw 5.322 in regards to girls volleyball, which prohibits teams from playing more than 35 matches during the regular season.
Pinckneyville played 36 matches, with the extra match occurring during a Labor Day weekend tournament held at Marissa. Principal Tony Wilson said on Tuesday that the administration was made aware of the violation on Monday.
“We overlooked it,” he said. “We didn’t catch it until it was too late.”
That admission was why IHSA executive director Craig Anderson decided to end the Panthers’ season. According to Anderson, Pinckneyville gained an advantage by playing an extra match. The timing of when the IHSA found out about it exacerbated the situation, Anderson said.
He was informed Monday by a member school that the Panthers may have played an extra contest.
“They reported back to us that they played in 36 varsity matches and the limit is 35,” Anderson said. “I corresponded with (athletic director) Bob Waggoner about that and indicated to him that based upon the bylaw violation, they wouldn’t be eligible.”
Waggoner asked for and received a conference call appeal hearing Tuesday morning with the IHSA Board of Directors, an 11-person group of principals around the state. The local representative is Todd Rogers of Carterville. Erie’s Tim McConnell is the president of the board.
After about a two-hour hearing, the Board of Directors opted to uphold Anderson’s ruling and take Pinckneyville out of the State Series.
Minutes after that, Wilson got the 14 players together and informed them of the decision.
“There were a lot of tears, a lot of tears,” he said. “We have four seniors and not all of them play other sports. We accept full accountability, but the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. The only people who got any punitive consequence were the girls.”
Wilson said the school offered three alternative punishments in an appeal to take the place of the one the IHSA imposed, including suspending coach Cathy Koenen, suspending Waggoner and forfeiting all 28 regular season wins.
Anderson said the Board of Directors considered all of Pinckneyville’s suggestions and that he had nothing to do with their decision on the appeal.
“I respect what they were attempting to do to allow the team to continue in the postseason,” Anderson said. “But at the end of the day, in past precedence, the bylaws were the guiding hand in my (original) decision.”
Wilson disputed the IHSA’s claim in regards to precedence, bringing up an August ruling in which 17 schools in or around Chicago were punished for having contact with basketball players prior to the end of the previous school year in June.
In a statement given to multiple media outlets at that time, Anderson said there was “no malicious intent in these violations or any attempt to gain an advantage, nor was there any gained.”
Coaches and athletic directors from those 17 schools merely had to participate in an online rules education seminar.
Pinckneyville was the top-seeded team in its regional and shared the SIRR Mississippi title with Nashville, going 9-1 in the conference. The Panthers were favored to advance to the Red Bud Sectional next week and appeared to have a chance to play in the 2A semifinals next month.
That chance disappeared via phone Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, the season didn’t end on their terms,” Wilson said.