Controversial ruling knocks high school baseball team out of playoffs

Topsail High was forced to forfeit 16 of its wins this season because of an ineligible player with special circumstances

The Topsail High School baseball team finished the regular season with 17 wins in 23 games, but officially, the Pirates’ final record has gone into the books as 1-22. And instead of preparing for the first round of the Class 3A playoffs, the team’s coaches and players have been left standing on the sidelines wondering what happened.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association ruled last week that Topsail would be forced to forfeit all but one of its victories because of an ineligible player. It’s a decision that was upheld Monday when the NCHSAA denied the Pirates’ appeal, leaving them out of the playoff bracket that was announced later in the day.

Topsail’s troubles stem from a player described by the Wilmington Star-News as a “twice-exceptional child” who is “plagued with debilitating anxiety and is non-verbal.” He saw action only as a courtesy runner.

The player in question, a senior, was determined to be eligible by school officials at the start of the semester. Issues subsequently came to light that led to his eligibility being called into question.

Members of the team, which is located in the Pender County community of Hampstead, were informed of the forfeits last Thursday.

The circumstances involved and the timing in which the decision was made has left team members and their parents stunned and angry.

“The team is just really disappointed,” senior Colby Emmertz told Wilmington television station WWAY. “We didn’t even get a chance to make a run in the playoffs to keep the Topsail tradition going. The kid didn’t even know he was ineligible. It wasn’t his fault.”

Principal Berry Simmons, athletic director Barry West and coach Aaron Rimer have all refrained from making public statements on the subject. Pender County Schools spokesperson Miranda Ferguson, in a statement, said that a thorough investigation of the Topsail situation has been conducted and that the school system “is reviewing all athletic procedures and making every effort to ensure there are no further violations.”

NCHSAA spokesman James Alverson declined comment, citing organization policy that “all information about violations and any investigation must come from the member school itself.”

The state baseball tournament is scheduled to begin Tuesday.