Prairie Seeds Academy, one of Minnesota's newest and most successful high school soccer programs, was disqualified from the Class 1A boys' state tournament Wednesday after an investigation of a post-game fight by the Minnesota State High School League found that it used an ineligible player during the entire 2012 season.
But there were signs Thursday that the school might pursue legal action to get back in the tournament.
The league disqualified Prairie Seeds after an investigation of a fight that broke out after last week's Section 5A championship match between Prairie Seeds and Totino-Grace determined that a Prairie Seeds player involved in the fight had been ineligible to play all season.
Records showed that the student attended a different school during the 2011-12 school year and transferred to Prairie Seeds, a charter school based in Brooklyn Park, this fall.
Prairie Seeds did not initiate a "student transfer online form," making the student ineligible to participate in varsity soccer, the league said. Such a violation of the league bylaw calls for forfeiting "the game and honors," the league said.
High school league executive director Dave Stead said the disqualification of a team from a state tournament was unprecedented in his 27 years with the league.
The Lycans had been scheduled to play Duluth Marshall on Friday in Roseville. Because of the disqualification, Marshall will advance to next week's semifinal at the Metrodome. Totino-Grace will not replace Prairie Seeds against Marshall "because of the uncertainty of which team may have advanced earlier in the section tournament had Prairie Seeds Academy not played," the league said.
However, Marshall athletic director Kevin Snyder said the boys' team is continuing to practice as if they are going to play Prairie Seeds Academy in the state Class 1A soccer quarterfinals on Friday in Roseville.
Snyder said Thursday morning said the league told him that “Prairie Seeds might try to file an injunction’’ to block the disqualification and thus allow it to play. “They asked us to practice as if we're playing them Friday. Let's just say I didn't cancel the buses,’’ Snyder said.
The Duluth News Tribune reported on the potential for court action this morning.
Prairie Seeds coach Youssef Darbaki, who also is the school's athletic/activities director, could not be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday morning.
Stead said Thursday that Marshall’s athletic director called the high school league to ask if he should cancel buses and was told not to simply as a precaution, not because of looming legal concerns.
Though the forfeit of the section championship game made Totino-Grace the winner, several other teams also could make a case for going to state because all of the Lycans’ games involving the ineligible player became forfeits as well.
“We don't know which team might have advanced in the section tournament had Prairie Seeds Academy not played,’’ Stead said. “I got emails from people at Monticello [which Prairie Seeds defeated 12-0 in the section semis] asking, 'Why aren't we going to state?' I'm sure a lot of teams are thinking that."
Totino-Grace athletic director Mike Smith said Thursday that “it is a bad deal’’ that no team from its section will play in the state tournament.
"Our primary focus at this time has been to support our student athletes through a difficult time,’’ Smith said. “They have been through a lot this week. They have been punched, kicked, bitten, and inaccurately prejudged by some. They have been scared, sad, and anxious and have been dealing with the loss of a heart-breaking game, the last soccer game many of them may ever play.''
Prairie Seeds won the Class 1A soccer title in its first full season of varsity play in 2010. It finished as runner-up last year after losing a star player for two games because of an age eligibility question.
The most recent disqualification stemmed from information provided to the league during its probe of the fight last Thursday as the game, a 2-1 Prairie Seeds victory that earned the school a trip to the Class 1A tournament, ended at Maple Grove High School.
Stead would not identify who provided information about the player's eligibility.
Video footage from a cable television broadcast of the game shows a Prairie Seeds player appearing to be pushed before he turned around and punched the opposing player. Other players and officials swooped in as more punches were thrown in a chaotic scene on the sideline.
According to the league's news release:
The investigation centered on a frame-by-frame review of the fight portion of the video. League staff and coaches and administrative representatives from both schools agreed that six players from each school had been involved in the altercation in varying degrees, the league said.
Five players were determined to have thrown punches at or kicked players or coaches from the opposing team, and five players were determined to have been involved to a lesser degree. It was also agreed that two players identified in the video were not involved in the altercation.
The league said five players will be ineligible for a minimum period of four weeks. Five other players will be ineligible for one game. Two players will have no penalty.
The league did not name the players or identify team affiliation of those who were penalized.
In last year's state tournament, Prairie Seeds played two games without standout player Carlos Boquin, who had been ruled ineligible by the league. Boquin played summer soccer with the Minnesota Kings and the team website listed his birth year as 1988. Players older than 20 are ineligible to participate in high school league activities.
Boquin's original birth certificate, stating he was 17, was mailed from his father in El Salvador and given to a high school league attorney the night before the championship game. Boquin's eligibility was confirmed about 15 minutes before the start of the game, which the Lycans lost to Benilde-St. Margaret's.
Stead would not comment whether Prairie Seeds lacked sufficient institutional control but said, "We are always available to provide additional support for any of our member schools."
Staff writer Paul Klauda contributed to this story.