Ypsilanti boys soccer coach resigns over district title forfeit
Ypsilanti High School boys soccer coach Terry Collins has resigned from his position following the team’s forfeit of its first district title.
After winning the program’s first district championship on Oct. 22, it was discovered the Phoenix used a player that was above the MHSAA’s maximum allowable age throughout the season and during tournament play.
The error was discovered by administrators while the team was on a bus ride to its regional contest with St. Clair Shores Lake Shore the following Tuesday. The bus was forced to turn around and the game was never played.
“From my point of view, I have always stressed to my players that you suffer the consequences of your mistakes,” Collins said. “In the end, this was my fault.”
Collins said he turned in his letter of resignation on Tuesday after athletic director Scott Johnson told him that that was the course of action the administration preferred. District spokesperson Emma Jackson confirmed that Collins’ letter of resignation has been accepted by the district.
“The coach expressed remorse that something like this has happened,” Jackson said. “I believe the coach recognized the impact of this and offered his resignation.”
Johnson did not return several emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Players were told by Johnson why they couldn’t play in the regional contest after the bus returned to the school.
“I didn't think I had heard him right, but then it sunk in, and I was upset,” said Kevin Wu, a player on the team. “I know that several of us were really angry at how the whole situation played out.”
Wu said he thought Collins’ resignation was appropriate given the circumstances but added, “Other than this, he has been a great coach, and it's unfortunate that this is how his time at Ypsi ended.”
According to Collins, the ineligible player turned 19 in mid-August. MHSAA rules state that a player is not eligible for postseason play if they turn 19 before Sept. 1 of the current school year.
Collins said he first learned of the player’s age during summer training sessions and intended to let the player participate in offseason workouts before letting him know he would not be eligible to play during the season and that he informed Johnson of his intention.
Collins said it slipped his mind and the office did not discover the player’s birth date until the day of the regional contest.
“None of us could really blame the kid who played because all of us knew he was 19 but thought the coach had made a deal, or had it taken care of because the kid played all season,” one player said.
“My error was not talking to the player during the offseason and saying ‘Listen, son, I don’t think you’re going to be eligible,’ I should have told him right then, encouraged him to hang in there, but I didn’t,” Collins said.
Had the ineligible player been discovered prior to district competition, Ypsilanti would have been eligible for postseason play since the regular season has no bearing on the postseason in soccer. The player in question was a reserve on the team who played about 10 minutes per game, according to an Ypsilanti player.
“The issue here is that an ineligible student athlete participated in a postseason game,” said MHSAA communications director John Johnson, recalling an incident where a hockey team had to forfeit its regular season games due to a similar situation, but made a deep postseason run. “They put it behind them and went into the tournament winless.
“It’s not the first time it's happened, it’s not the last time it will ever happen. It's usually caught before this, but, hey it happens,” Johnson said.
It happened to St. Clair Shores Lake Shore football team in 2008 during a playoff run.
“We got burned here three or four years ago before I took this job. Had a football player slip through the cracks somehow,” said Lake Shore athletic director John Hartley. “I’m sure they feel horrible for a number of reasons.”
Collins said he didn’t want to resign, but that he wouldn’t “fight it,” if that was what was preferred by the administration. He announced that he would be resigning to his team on its Facebook page. He called a team meeting, but was later told by Johnson to cancel the meeting. Collins has yet to speak with his team since the incident and was actually out of town during the entire fiasco, attending the funeral of his father.
Collins said he’s proud of his work in his two years with the program, and upset that it is ending in such a negative fashion.
“When I got there two years ago, the reputation of the program was that there were numerous red cards per game, games called before the end of the game, they had fights. They were a joke,” Collins said.
He said when former athletic director Chuck Fuller hired him, one of the goals they laid out was to legitimize the program. He feels he exceeded that goal, but recognized the negative impact the incident has on the outside perception of the team and the school.
“The really sad part about all of this is this ineligible player becomes the story and not the fact that these kids grew up and did something that had never happened before and that’s my biggest disappointment and that’s what I need to apologize to them for,” Collins said. “Give the kids as much credit for what they did in the tournament by themselves.”
Pete Cunningham covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 734-623-2561. Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.