Former hockey coach puts blame on MHS

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Former Middleton hockey coach Steffon Walby accepted little blame after the Cardinals were disqualified from the postseason for using an ineligible player.

Accountability and responsibility.

Steffon Walby wanted little part of either.

Walby, Middleton’s former boys hockey coach, sent a 1,001-word letter to several people in the district Friday claiming, “rumors, falsehoods and confusion” led to him and MHS eventually agreeing to “part ways.”

Middleton was disqualified from the postseason after using ineligible senior forward Joe O’Reilly in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal game on Feb. 18. That led to an investigation that showed O’Reilly had been ruled ineligible in Oct., 2019, meaning Middleton will likely have to forfeit all of its victories from 2019-’20.

The Times-Tribune first reported the story on Feb. 20.

Walby, though, claimed ignorance when it came to O’Reilly’s eligibility.

“Throughout all the discussions about the student in question (O’Reilly) and/or at least referencing him, including specific inquiries and gathering of documents to establish his eligibility, no one ever informed me that he was ineligible due to his residency until February 20, 2020,” Walby wrote. “Thus, I assumed that the proper paperwork had been submitted regarding his residency eligibility.”

O'Reilly competed for the Cardinals in past seasons, but moved out of the district in 2018-’19. He moved back to the district this year, but his family remained out of state.

Under WIAA rules, this type of transfer calls for one year of non-varsity competition for the transferring student. Only through a successful appeal can an athlete participate.

WIAA deputy director Wade Labecki is responsible for eligibility issues. Labecki said that Middleton inquired about O’Reilly’s eligibility, he ruled against it, then sent an email to Cardinals’ athletic director Bob Joers that included the phrase “no participation” for O’Reilly.

Joers hasn’t answered any questions throughout this process. According to Labecki, though, Joers told him he forwarded Labecki’s email to Walby.

Walby told a different story in his letter.

“The Middleton High Athletic Department never submitted the required eligibility waiver with the WIAA,” he said. “As such, the student was never denied or approved eligibility.

“Second, neither the student in question nor I were ever informed about his ineligibility due to his residency by anyone at the school. No one ever came to me and questioned his ability to play for the team.”

Walby said that on Nov. 7, 2019, he emailed Joers asking for an address where O’Reilly’s father could drop off a lease and utility bill to show a new residency. Joers gave Walby that address, and Walby said he forwarded that to O’Reilly’s father.

On Nov. 10, Walby said he sent an email to Joers that included O’Reilly’s physical and verification of his school athletic fee payment. Walby then submitted a roster on Nov. 20, 2019 that included O’Reilly’s name.

Walby claims that at no time did anyone from MHS step in and tell him O’Reilly shouldn't be playing. At the same time, Walby had been told in October that O’Reilly was ineligible — and nothing had changed that ruling.

So, it remains unclear why Walby proceeded as if O’Reilly was back on the team?

“To be clear my job was to coach hockey,” Walby said. “It is not to fill out or submit paperwork required by the WIAA.

“My contract with the school began on November 11, 2019 — the first day of the season. It is the responsibility of the Athletic Department to submit paperwork regarding students’ residence and eligibility and to timely provide me with that information.

“In other words, there was a breakdown with the administration in the Athletic Department. We are all human, we all make mistakes. There was no intent or conspiracy to play an ineligible player.”

It was also later learned that O’Reilly was academically ineligible after the first semester ended in January, but continued to play.

That information was sent to Walby’s school-provided email address.

Walby again tried passing the buck, claiming he rarely used that email account and only checked his personal account.

“No one informed me of the student’s academic status, and the MHS administration has admitted this,” Walby said.

While Walby tried putting most of the blame back on the Middleton athletic department, he did own one thing in his letter.

“I shouldn’t have assumed that everything had been cleared up,” Walby wrote. “I should have been more diligent and proactive in following up on the issue.”


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