Chief Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit ruled in favor of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission on Monday morning, ending the George Washington High School golf team’s season and allowing the state tournament to proceed as scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling.
GW senior golfer Joseph Kalaskey filed a lawsuit last week requesting to be added as a third team from Class AAA Region 3 after a post-round scoring dispute over a Capital golfer’s score. The Cougars finished one shot ahead of GW for second place in the region. The top two teams from each region as well as the top two individuals from nonqualifying teams earn automatic berths into the state tournament.
“We did what we thought was right,” Kalaskey said after the ruling. “We did all we could. We still think we’re in the right, but we did what we could and the court made their decision, so it is what it is.”
With the state tournament starting on Tuesday, Tabit slid the case into an already full docket, telling counsel from both sides that she would give the case about an hour. In the end, that’s about exactly how much time she needed to make her decision, alluding to the slippery slope the could be created by the courts interfering in officials’ judgments in prep games.
“I think we should follow the officials’ call that are at the game and let them make the decision,” WVSSAC executive director Bernie Dolan said. “It’s a slippery slope, as she said, and we agree.”
The dispute happened last Monday during the Region 3 tournament held at Pipestem Resort State Park. A Capital player and his marker (another player in a group tasked with keeping the Capital player’s score) disagreed on the score of par-3, eighth hole. A debate lasting around two hours ensued, with players being taken back to the hole and asked to recall particular strokes in an effort to resolve the matter.
Steve Robertson, the director of golf operations at Pipestem Resort State Park and also a witness on Monday, eventually decided to accept the Capital player’s score, thus providing the one-shot margin needed to send the Cougars on to the state tournament. Two parents from other schools who watched the hole also sided with the marker, but Robertson chose not to take their testimony into account, claiming on Monday while on the stand that he feared biases could have interfered.
On Monday, Kalaskey’s lawyer Paul M. Stroebel argued that under United States Golf Association rule 3.3b, which claims that the committee (Robertson in this case) must take into account the word of any witness to a disputed hole if the marker and the player cannot sort the matter out for themselves, those witnesses should have had input in the decision. Stroebel also had those witnesses available via phone, but Tabit chose not to allow their testimony.
WVSSAC attorney Bill Wooton countered by citing rule 6c-7 of the committee procedure portion of the USGA rule book which states that when a dispute between players cannot be resolved and there is no other evidence, the benefit of the doubt should be given to the player.
George Washington tried to appeal to the WVSSAC after the decision last Monday but the WVSSAC determined that the matter had already been reviewed onsite by tournament officials.
Stroebel argued the WVSSAC’s lack of a formal review was in violation of a ruling made in 2015 in a case that reached the West Virginia Supreme Court.
In that case, Justice Menis Ketchum upheld a ruling made by Marshall County Circuit Court Judge David Hummel which granted Dalton Wood, a football player at Cameron, a temporary injunction after he was ejected from a game. Ketchum ruled that the WVSSAC must have a review process for student-athletes who wished to appeal ejections.
But on Monday, Tabit ruled that player ejections and official rulings were two different matters and the ruling made by Ketchum had no bearing in this matter.
“Every time a penalty is called or not called are we going to have litigation?” Tabit asked. “You’re asking me to put a third team [from Class AAA Region 3] into the state tournament. What about Class AA and Class A? Do they get three teams?”
GW coach B.J. Calabrese, who was also called as a witness, said he respected Tabit and her decision but admitted it was a disappointment to face his players, many of whom attended on Monday, and talk about the end of their season.
“We felt that we had the rules of golf in our favor,” Calabrese said. “We knew it would be tough to overturn, but we really felt we had a couple of things going in our favor. I feel bad for the kids. It’s a very difficult position for them to be in. You do learn lessons sometimes the hard way and this was a difficult lesson.
“I know in the court of public opinion a lot of people are questioning why we did this,” he added. “There’s more to it than we were able to bring out and as a member the golf rules committee it’s my responsibility to address issues and concerns with schools in the southern half of the state. Even if GW wasn’t involved in this dispute, I still would have taken up this battle.
“Looking in it looks like, ‘You got beat and now you’re just crying about it.’ But I think you set up a precedent for the future here where we’re going to have to battle where kids can dispute a hole, refuse to sign a scorecard and you side with the player and I’m not sure that’s where we want to go with the game of golf.”