State championship dreams for the Olive Branch High School girls basketball team in 2017 have apparently been taken away with a ruling by the Mississippi High School Activities Association that the school will have to forfeit its MHSAA 6A state title won in March.
As a result, there will be no girls' basketball champion listed in 6A for the 2017 season. The championship is considered vacated in the eyes of the state's ruling body over extracurricular activities.
Parents of the team that went 33-1 and defeated Starkville 57-54 in the state finals are upset about the decision, however, and plan to appeal in an effort to keep their team's championship.
The school was informed of the ruling by the MHSAA in a letter on Thursday. In the Notice of Penalty, Executive Director Don Hinton stated that it had been determined the Lady Quistors used an ineligible transfer player during the season.
Although not stated specifically in the letter, by description the player was eighth-grader Taylor Woodhouse, who played the entire year at Olive Branch Middle School and then was added to the varsity roster for the team's late-season run to the title.
A talented guard who has received some attention already from college programs, Woodhouse is now enrolled at Southaven High School, in the attendance district where she and her family lives. Southaven officials have sent the needed paperwork into the MHSAA to have her declared eligible to play for the Lady Chargers this season as a freshman and are awaiting a ruling in that regard.
It was that request for eligibility that apparently set the red flags flying, as intimated by Hinton in a phone conversation Saturday afternoon.
"Residency is big with us," Hinton said. "A student who plays has to live in the school zone. A player was not in the Olive Branch school zone. The process to request eligibility was not followed and she would not have been declared eligibile even if the process was followed."
In Thursday's notice of penalty letter to the school, it also said that both boys and girls programs played last season on disciplinary probation by the association. The catalyst for that was a self-reported violation by the school regarding what was described as an illegal practice held in the gymnasium late in the school year and after previous coach Blake Jones had already left to take a similar job at Biloxi High School.
Both boys' and girls' programs were sanctioned because they share the same gymnasium and it was that probation that made this penalty harsher on the girls' team.
With the action by the MHSAA, Olive Branch is now required to forfeit all games that Woodhouse took part in last season with the varsity team. The program is placed on one year's restrictive probation, is ineligible to play in the post-season playoffs and the school has been fined $500 for the violation.
The team can play a regular season schedule and any MHSAA-approved invitational tournaments that don't lead toward a state championship.
The school must also return to the state association post-season revenue from gate receipts for playoff games the team took part in, the state championship trophy and other awards earned by the team are also to be returned.
John Taylor, the father of star point guard Myah Taylor, now a freshman at Mississippi State, said parents are not happy about the turn of events.
Those parents have spent the weekend getting legal representation together and are set to appeal the decision. They had five calendar days from the date of the decision to make an appeal with Monday being the last possible day to file that action.
Taylor said the parents were also upset that they were not immediately informed of the ruling by the school, adding that players were also not informed and some, including his daughter, learned of the decision second-hand.
Lady Quistor coach Jason Thompson said he could not comment on the decision, however DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton did offer his response.
"My first thoughts were for our student-athletes," Uselton said. "I was disappointed to hear the news, but I am still very proud of them. I expect our schools to follow all MHSAA rules, and I spoke with the Olive Branch High School principal about the matter on Friday to ensure that there was not any malicious intent involved. I know how important this matter is to our students and parents, and I am willing to do everything in my power to seek leniency for our student-athletes."
Woodhouse is allowed to attend school in the district wherever her family chooses to send her, because her mother is an instructor at Lake Cormorant High School and that is allowed under part of a school board policy regarding student transfers from one attendance center to another within the district.
However, for athletic purposes, the MHSAA requires athletes live in the attendance district they play for.
Woodhouse and her family were of the understanding that she was eligible to play at Olive Branch and that the proper paperwork had been filled out.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.