Topsail baseball turmoil continues

Principal is the third person to leave job after school team forfeited wins due to ineligible player

Topsail's Shane Nolan reaches for the ball as Ashley’s Lee Fentress dives back to second base in a Mideastern Conference baseball game April 6 at Ashley High School. (Photo courtesy of Ken Blevins/ Star-News)

Fallout from the controversy that cost the Topsail High School baseball team 16 wins and a spot in the state playoffs this spring continued last week with the resignation of principal Berry Simmons.

The veteran administrator, who had spent the past six years at the school, stepped down only days after the Pender County Board of Education issued a report on the findings of its investigation into the situation.

Simmons is the third major figure in the case to either resign or be fired over missteps that were made in certifying the eligibility of Topsail senior Alex Postma.

Athletic director Barry West left his position on May 24 after admitting negligence and failing to comply with his duties. Baseball coach Aaron Rimer was relieved of his duties on June 18 after it was determined that he violated county and state policies by sharing confidential student information.

The Board of Education report, commissioned by Pender County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill, held that all three men were responsible for mistakes made in the certification process and concluded that Postma, whose academic performance was negatively affected by severe anxiety and depression issues, should have been declared ineligible before the start of the season.

“As a member of the high school athletic association, Topsail High School must comply with all of its rules and regulations, as well as Pender County Board of Education policy,” Pender County Schools attorney Richard Schwartz said during a June 29 meeting at which the report was released.

“Responsibility for assuring that compliance is shared among various school system employees, primarily the head coach of the team involved, the school’s athletic director, principal and county athletic director.”

Postma played in only seven games for the Pirates this season, batting just three times. His participation came mostly as a courtesy runner. But because he was in uniform for all but one game, the results of each were invalidated by the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

That includes 16 of the 17 games Topsail won.

The teenager was ruled ineligible because he did not pass at least three classes during the Fall semester as required by NCHSAA rules, a portion of which he spent on “homebound status.” It was also found that he dressed for games or attended practices on several occasions in which he was absent for the entire school day during the Spring semester.

As critical as the Board of Education report was of school officials for allowing Postma to be declared eligible despite those red flags, it also placed blame on his parents, saying that Michael and Julie Postma were given a “thorough explanation” on scholastic and attendance requirements at a preseason orientation meeting on Feb. 19.

“Prior to this meeting,” the report stated, “the player and the parents were well aware that the player had not met this requirement.”

Michael Postma, in an interview with the North State Journal shortly after the forfeits were announced, said that there were extenuating circumstances surrounding Alex’s academic problems.

He said that his son was “nonverbal” and an “exceptional child” who “cognitively, cannot function very well,” when anxiety hits him. He added that “it was quite courageous that he went out for the team.”

The report, however, took issue with Michael Postma’s characterization of his son’s condition.

“None of this information is accurate,” it stated. “In fact, the student graduated from THS in the spring with support and assistance from staff.”

It was a member of that staff that brought the issue of the player’s eligibility to light.

According to the report, the unnamed staff member was aware of Postma’s academic and attendance problems but did not know he was on the baseball team until seeing him in uniform at Topsail’s senior night game.

“The staff member was shocked to see the player and questioned the player’s participation with the baseball team,” the report stated.

Schools officials began looking into the situation the next day and eventually self-reported the violation to the NCHSAA, leading to the forfeits. Two months later, the Board of Education concluded that “there was more than enough blame to go around” and that procedures would be put in place to prevent such a problem from happening again.

It also praised Topsail team members for demonstrating character and “maturity beyond their years” for their support of Postma while formally apologizing to them and their families, “who should have expected more and better from their school system.”