The Danbury boys soccer team, due to play in the Class LL championship Saturday for the first time in 18 years, learned on Friday morning that it had been disqualified due to the use of an ineligible player.
In accordance with CIAC rules, Shelton, which lost, 4-2, to the Hatters in Tuesday’s semifinals, will now play Farmington in the final.
The player in question was ruled ineligible due to grades. According to Danbury athletic director Chip Salvestrini, there was a misunderstanding on compliance between when the school released grades digitally on Nov. 4, which the school thought would make the player in question eligible, and when report cards are released, which is the CIAC rule. Danbury report cards were handed out Thursday afternoon.
CIAC executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff said on Friday that the rule is in place to allow for possible grade changes during the time a marking period closes and they are officially released.
“The difference in a grade closing date is the issue, there was a bylaw added to the rules years ago,” said Dr. Niehoff, a former principal at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington. “It gives a school time for grades to be reviewed and then verified. This is in place for all athletes.”
In a statement released by then CIAC Friday morning, per its bylaws, “When it is discovered that a team has used an ineligible competitor in a CIAC team tournament, the tournament game/match shall be forfeited. The team using the ineligible player will be disqualified from the tournament and that team’s last opponent will advance in its place. Teams eliminated prior to the last opponent will not be permitted to re-enter the tournament.”
According to Salvestrini, the player in question was ineligible at the start of the season but allowed to practice with the team. Once the marking period ended on Nov. 4, a Friday, the school posted grades online and the player was assumed eligible. Salvestrini said he waited again until the following Monday to review the rules before clearing the player to officially return to the team. The player took part in a game for the first time on Nov. 8, which was the Hatters’ opening-round Class LL game against Fairfield Ludlowe, and played in the team’s three subsequent playoff games.
Salvestrini said he started hearing rumors before the team’s quarterfinal game with Trumbull that something might be amiss. Eagles coach Sebe Gangemi said on Friday that the school had made its own inquiry.
Salvestrini said ultimately there was a misunderstanding in the rules and that he ultimately accepted blame for the situation.
“I thought we did the right thing,” Salvestrini said. “It is kind of like a punch to the stomach. If anyone is responsible, it’s me. I am sick over it. I’m an old offensive lineman, and you are supposed to block. I guess I didn’t block.”
Dr. Niehoff said school officials from Shelton, which will be appearing in a state final for the first time, brought the situation to the CIAC’s attention Thursday but in the form of a probe rather than in an accusatory manner.
This is the second year in a row that an FCIAC school has forfeited a state playoff game due to the use of an ineligible player. Bridgeport Central was disqualified in last year’s Class LL semifinals.
Asked if this situation might cause the CIAC to take another look at its rules in a digital age, Dr. Niehoff said, “I think any reconsideration would be on the school side of things.”
Many of the Danbury players first found out about the disqualification on social media.
Antony Howard, the Hatters’ first-year coach, said Friday morning he had just learned about the ruling and at the time was waiting to learn the specifics.
“I’m just devastated really,” Howard said. “I just feel bad for the boys. I get an opportunity to come back another year, to come back and fight again. For my seniors, it’s all over.”