Hockey Cardinals thrown in the penalty box

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Zach Walsh and Middleton's hockey team were thrown out of the playoffs for using an ileligible player Tuesday night./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton’s hockey team expected to compete for a WIAA Division 1 regional championship Thursday night. Instead, the Cardinals were thrown into the penalty box — for good.

Middleton defeated Tomah/Sparta, 7-2, in a regional semifinal Tuesday. But the WIAA determined the Cardinals used an ineligible player in that game and were forced to forfeit.

Instead of advancing to face Sun Prairie, Middleton’s season came to abrupt end.

“We learned this week that we used an ineligible player in our WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal victory,” said Perry Hibner, the Director of Communications for the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District. “As a result we have forfeited that game.”

The WIAA received an anonymous tip on Wednesday that the Cardinals had used a player that had not established residency in the district — making that player ineligible.

The player in question was in the Cardinals’ program in past seasons, but moved out of the district in 2018-’19. The player moved back to the district this year, but his family did not.

Under WIAA rules, that player needed to sit out a full season before regaining eligibility.

“We were made aware of a concern and upon conclusion of our internal investigation needed to acknowledge the inadvertent use of an ineligible player, which we then reported to the WIAA,” Hibner said. “We know there will be questions regarding how this could happen. It certainly wasn’t malicious, nor were we knowingly violating WIAA rules.” 

Middleton finished the regular season 14-10 overall and entered the postseason on a three-game winning streak.

Middleton athletic director Bob Joers did not immediately return a call. But there are several unanswered questions, including:

• Why didn’t the powers-that-be inside Middleton’s athletic department have a better understanding of this player’s off-the-ice living situation?  

• What did Middleton coach Steffon Walby know about the situation? And when did he know it?

• And if the Cardinals used the ineligible player all season, will they have to forfeit all of their victories?

Those questions will be answered in the days ahead. Thursday night, the only thing that was clear was Middleton’s year was over.

“Our boys hockey players and families are extremely disappointed,” Hibner said. “This is a terrible way to have to close our season.”

(This is a developing story. Check back for updates)

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