About this time a year ago, I had blog post about Twenty One Pilots (and by the way, when are they going to have a new release?) entitled “Stressed out,” about doing the right thing, making the right decisions. This is something that we have emphasized at John Champe High School from our inception: in drawing upon the school’s namesake, we have regularly talked about the idea of courage and what that means and how it can manifest itself. In particular, how doing the right thing oftentimes takes courage, which is why the right decisions can sometimes be so hard.
There have been times on an individual basis or even on a small scale where we have been able to demonstrate this and our commitment to doing what is right. But recently, near the end of the winter sports season, on a much larger scale, we were faced with a situation where we could take the easy way out or we could model what we value.
To summarize briefly, it was pointed out to us that there was a question about athletic eligibility as it pertained to the basketball team. While we were in compliance with the rules and policies of the Virginia High School League, we were not compliant with Loudoun County Public Schools’ rules as stated in the athletic handbook (which by extension, are policy). The right thing to do was to advocate for what we believe in and what we think is best for students, which we did—which was an easy thing to do. However, we were unsuccessful in being able to reverse the decision about the local rule in question. As a result, we had a player who would not be able to play the remainder of the season, which is unfortunate for several different reasons. But we then faced a dilemma of how to proceed. That was not as easy.
If we decided to follow the guidance of the local rules—and even the VHSL—we would have fulfilled our obligation as school officials. We would have been finished with the situation and been able to quickly move on.
And yet, that didn’t feel quite right.
So after talking it through with Mr. Breinig, the athletic director, we agreed that the right thing to do was forfeit two of our wins. That was hard to do. These were district wins against Broad Run and Briar Woods, and we were confident that these would have been victories regardless. However, we ultimately decided that we didn’t want there to be a shadow of a doubt about our wins, let alone our integrity. So even though we were not required to, we forfeited those two games, and many fans and community members were not happy about that (but with some conversations, some understood why we had done and some even respected us for it).
Unfortunately, because these forfeitures were district games, they had an adverse impact on our seeding for the district playoffs. Instead of being the number five seed, we dropped down to the seven seed. The ramifications were that we would be squaring off against a tougher opponent (Stone Bridge High School, which had beaten us twice during the regular season by 29 and 25 points) earlier in the playoffs and that we would likely not host a game at home.
What was also especially difficult about this was that this was all in the public eye for everyone to see. Fans knew what had happened, parents were aware—even opposing schools knew when we played them. This was partially because we had sent an email to the program, but also because word travels fast, not just in subdivisions but even across the county. And so this also made it hard for our athletes, being on the court and knowing what people were thinking.
But to their credit, they held their heads high and played hard. And so when we traveled to the number 2 seed Stone Bridge High School for the district quarter final, it was so energizing to see our athletes compete and play with a zeal that we hadn’t seen in a while. And so that thrilling upset over Stone Bridge 62-58 was that much sweeter because our students had triumphed in the face of struggle and adversity.
My point here isn’t to pat ourselves on the back; rather, it is to highlight one of our learning opportunities. It is my hope that everyone was able to learn something from the actions of the students and the adults in this situation because learning doesn’t just occur in our classrooms or in isolation. Some of the most important lessons in life can be learned on the court, in the stands, or even on the way of the event. As such, I’m confident that our basketball program and our community is stronger for this and hope that they can draw from it in the future.