By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN -- A West Virginia high school football game, it turns out, should be settled on the field and not in a courtroom.
The state Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that it's up to the Secondary School Activities Commission, and not a judge, to enforce SSAC rules.
The decision should end the legal wrangling over the controversial conclusion to the South Charleston-Hurricane high school football playoff game last month.
The game officials conferred after the game and ejected five South Charleston players and four Hurricane players for a bench-clearing brawl. Four of the South Charleston players went to court to block their ejection, which would have kept them out of the next game.
Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster stopped the ejections, ruling that the game officials' authority ended at the conclusion of the game.
In the meantime, South Charleston, using the ejected players, beat Brooke in the semifinal game. Brooke then got a court order stopping the Class AAA championship game with Martinsburg from being played until the eligibility issue was settled.
The SSAC appealed Webster's decision to the state Supreme Court, and now the high court has sided with the SSAC.
In its order, the court said that the lower court (Webster) "exceeded its authority" by issuing an order that allowed the ejected players to participate.
"The judiciary has no authority to review whether the rules governing the WVSSAC were properly applied," the court said.
More importantly, the court said that these are matters for the SSAC, not the courts.
"This Court has long recognized that the Legislature intended the WVSSAC to promulgate rules to carry out its control, supervision, and regulation of interscholastic athletic events and the court should not interfere (emphasis added) with the internal affairs of school activities commission," the court said.
The Justices pointed to their decision in 2008 where it upheld the suspension of Huntington High School basketball player O.J. Mayo. In that ruling, the court said that students did not have a Constitutional right to participate in extracurricular activities and that it would be "unwise" to invite the courts to "review an official's judgment."
The SSAC acted quickly after Tuesday's court decision to take South Charleston out of the Class AAA championship game, replacing the Black Eagles with Brooke.
If South Charleston had accepted the ejections in the first place, the team would have had to play Brooke without several of their best players, including quarterback Tyler Harris and receiver and defensive back Pierria Henry.
It would have been difficult for South Charleston to win that game without those players, but as a result of taking the ejections to court, South Charleston ended up assuring itself of defeat.
The outcome of this mess should serve as a warning for the future:
Disputes with the SSAC are best decided by that organization and its members. Yes, an aggrieved party can find a sympathetic local judge, but in the end the state Supreme Court is going to throw the decision back to the SSAC.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.