Saturday, May 18, 2013
On this weekend, we celebrate eight state champion high school basketball teams. This is on the heels of teams and individuals already crowned in skiing, wrestling, cheering, indoor track and field, girls ice hockey and swimming. Boys ice hockey championships are scheduled for next weekend.
This is the story of an athlete who had his chance at a state title taken from him, through no fault of his own, over an easily corrected error.
Johnny Lagasse is a sophomore at Winslow High School. On Friday, Feb. 1, one day before he was to wrestle in the Western Class C meet, Lagasse got the news from his coach, Kevin Fredette. Due to a low grade in English, Lagasse was ineligible. His wrestling season was over.
Except it should not have been. Just the day before, Lagasse had checked online and saw his grade in the class was a 75. He was passing.
Lagasse's mother, Lisa Lagasse, said she called Winslow athletic director Carrie Larrabee and said there must be a mistake.
"I called the AD and said 'These numbers aren't making sense,' " Lisa Lagasse said.
When asked about the Lagasse situation, Larrabee declined to comment.
Johnny emailed his English teacher, Mark Pelletier. On Friday afternoon, Pelletier double-checked the grade. Pelletier said he found a calculation error that caused not just Lagasse, but the entire class, to receive a failing grade. He fixed the error, and emailed Lagasse a note with the correct passing grade, 73. Give this note to your coach, Pelletier said. On Monday, Pelletier notified the guidance office of the correction and explained to Principal Doug Carville how he fixed the error. Pelletier said he apologized to Lagasse.
It was Sunday before Lagasse got the information to Fredette, too late to compete at the regional meet. It was also too late for Lagasse to enter the state meet. Although the Maine Principals' Association bulletin does not address the issue, the wrestling committee's policy has been that an athlete must compete at the regional meet to qualify for the state championships.
The question has to be asked, why wait so late to inform the student of his eligibility status? On the Friday Lagasse's season unraveled, Winslow High School was closed for an inservice day. That made it harder for Lagasse to make his appeal. Had there been classes, Lagasse could have questioned Pelletier directly. Lagasse could have taken his correct grade to Larrabee's office himself.
Even so, Larrabee and Pelletier were both at Winslow High School that day. After hearing from the Lagasse family, Larrabee could have gone to Pelletier's classroom to double check the grade.
For student athletes on the bubble, this is serious business. In this instance, earlier notice, even just a day, would have allowed the error to be caught and corrected. Lagasse would have wrestled at regionals. There's no guarantee he would have qualified for the state meet, but at least he would have had the chance.
Lagasse earned that much, and it was taken away from him.
"I just feel the policy should be changed," Lisa Lagasse said. "It's sad a kid gets punished for something he had no control of."
You don't want ineligible students slipping through the cracks and competing. It's not worth the time and hassle that comes with forfeiting games when ineligible athletes are inevitably discovered. That said, there's nothing wrong with a quick and thorough double check.
Wrestling is a tough sport. It's especially tough when your coach approaches you at the start of the season, looks over your 190-pound body and tells you that your best chance for a state championship is in the 170-pound weight class.
That's how Lagasse became motivated to drop 20 pounds. Wrestling at 170-pounds, he earned the No. 2 seed at the regional tournament.
"I did it because Coach (Fredette) told me I had a big chance to win states at 170," Lagasse said. "I ate really healthy. I cut out junk food. Everything I like, I didn't eat."
"You work months for a six minute match. That's what it takes," Fredette said. "(Lagasse) worked on his grades. He worked on his weight. He worked on his technique, to get in there."
Lagasse went to the Class C meet, as a spectator, to support his teammates.
"One kid I pinned in the first round, he ended up taking third place. I know I could've beaten him," he said.
To his credit, Lagasse said he's getting over the mistake, and he's using the experience as motivation for next season.
"I can't keep the attitude where I'm disappointed. I have to move on from it," Lagasse said.
Lagasse was pinned by a raw deal this time, but he will not let it define him.
Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242