KATY, Texas (FOX 26) - An electrifying season could have been short circuited today, but the Katy High School Tigers team was allowed to resume its charge toward an 8th state championship on Thursday morning.
A three-member University Interscholastic League panel said there was an eligibility violation, but that considering the bigger picture, Katy High School deserved mercy.
"We were able to apply a rule that is existing to give a little relief," said UIL board president Mike Motheral. He also said the UIL tries not to punish students for honest mistakes by adults.
Katy High School head football coach Gary Joseph was relieved to say the least. "I don't want to see our kids punished and I think these people did the right thing," said Joseph.
From the start of the emergency hearing on Thursday morning in Austin, the UIL panel made clear that there was no question an eligibility rule was violated. A student that had transferred from another school within the district, enrolled too late to play in the postseason. The student played on Friday against Friendswood when he shouldn't have.
Debbie Decker, the Katy Independent School District executive director of athletics, testified that she believed the student needed to only sit out fifteen days.
"I missed the rule, I missed the postseason part of that rule," explained Decker after the hearing. "It was important to own up to that mistake."
Decker was very emotional, knowing her mistake could have ended the team's season. The UIL board members told her it was a critical rule, and that ignorance was not a defense. But in the end, the board members agreed that a public reprimand and one year of probation was the appropriate punishment. They applied common sense to the impact that player had on Friday's game.
You have the Katy Tigers undefeated at 13-0 this year, so dominating that the defense had allowed a total of only 18 points all season. The ineligible player entered the game in the second half when Katy was up by more than 40 points. One UIL board member said if the player had come in the game and scored three touchdowns, they would be looking at a different scenario, but he didn't. The player had no discernible impact on the game whatsoever.
It was also clear that years and years of Katy ISD playing with no infractions, and keeping meticulous player records, had paid off.
"I've worked with them," said Katy ISD superintendent Alton Frailey. "I know that if you are honest with them, and you are thorough with your presentation, if there is any case law, then they will consider it. I'm thankful that they did.."
Being put on probation does not put any restrictions on the district in any way. But it does mean the district will get extra scrutiny, and no infraction will be considered small.
It also means the Katy Tigers are free to pursue an eighth state championship.
Decker appeared to be nearly in tears with relief and gratitude.
"They have earned that opportunity," said Decker. "I am glad that they are being given that opportunity back."
The Katy Independent School District released the following statement on Thursday:
On December 1, Katy ISD's Athletic Department discovered the possibility of an ineligible student participating on the Katy High School football team and self-reported this incident to the UIL immediately. A hearing was held this morning in Austin and the UIL State Executive Committee determined that while there was an oversight in direct compliance with UIL Constitution and Contest Rules section 440F, there was no intent to create an advantage by allowing the student to participate on the Katy High School football team during post season. Since being enrolled at Katy High School, the student had only participated in one game against Friendswood ISD on November 27, 2015. Given the results of today's hearing, the Katy Tigers will continue in the football playoffs. However, the Committee has decided to place the school on probation for one year. The school and District are pleased with the outcomes of the hearing and will be taking additional steps to ensure Katy ISD stays in compliance with all UIL Constitution and Contest Rules.