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West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer team ruled ineligible for this week's ND state tournament

A West Fargo Public Schools review of learner records revealed a Sheyenne player was ineligible to participate on the West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer team throughout the season, according to a

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The West Fargo Sheyenne Mustangs won't be playing in the North Dakota boys state soccer tournament after using an ineligible player the entire season and having to forfeit those games.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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WEST FARGO — The West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer team won't compete at the North Dakota state tournament this week.

Sheyenne administration notified the North Dakota High School Activities Association on Monday night that the team used an ineligible player during the entire season.

"The deliberate or inadvertent use of an ineligible participant in a team sport includes the prescribed penalty of forfeiture of all matches in which the student participated," the NDHSAA wrote in a release.

It was found during a routine review of learner records that an ineligible player was found to have participated on the team throughout the season, according to a news release from West Fargo Public Schools on Tuesday morning.

Sheyenne was the No. 2 seed from the East Region and the Mustangs were 11-4-2 overall and 8-4-2 in the Eastern Dakota Conference prior to the forfeits.

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District superintendent Beth Slette, district activities director Logan Midthun and Sheyenne activities coordinator Cory Hermann addressed the situation at a news conference at West Fargo's Leidal Education Center on Tuesday afternoon. Secondary assistant superintendent Vince Williams and Sheyenne High School principal Ryan Salisbury were also present.

"I would like to express my sincere and deepest sadness for the events of today," Slette said. "To our Mustang soccer team, I am so sorry that you will not be participating in your state tournament. And to your families, I am so sorry that you will not have a chance to see them do so.

"I am confident that every person that heard this devastating news has the same question: 'How does this happen?' I know that was my first question when I was contacted by Mr. Midthun (Monday) evening. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy black and white answer to how this eligibility issue wasn't caught earlier."

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West Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Beth Slette, holds a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, to announce that the West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer team has lost its berth in the state tournament due to an ineligible player on the team.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

WFPS said it will not be releasing details on the nature of the ineligibility due to the small size of the soccer roster and the potential for the student-athlete to be identified. But Slette suggested that administrative error could have played a role in the situation.

"Our current process requires staff to manually confirm each area of eligibility across multiple systems for each one of more than 1,000 student-athletes at Sheyenne High School," Slette said. "It is important to note that eligibility refers to multiple criteria. It is not just academic grades. When this process needs to be done for a significant number of participants that we have, errors are unfortunately possible in both the initial data entry and the ongoing monitoring of that data."

Slette said this issue could have occurred at any of the district's three high schools. She added that she reached out to NDHSAA executive director Matthew Fetsch in hopes of overturning the decision, but the infraction is not subject to appeals procedures as outline in the organization's bylaws .

Midthun — in his first year as the district-wide AD for WFPS — referred to the situation as a "failure" within the system the district has in place and said they will be taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen again in the future.

"Superintended Slette shared how our system failed to catch this ineligibility," Midthun said. "Therefore, my first task will be to put systems in place across the entire district that will flag such situations in the future. Through initial conversations with the director of technology and other members of our technology department, I'm confident that there are ways that we can automate the eligibility monitoring process to ensure that issues are caught in a timely fashion with as little impact to learners as possible.

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"While these automated systems are built and tested, all of our coaches and activities staff are committed to ensuring comprehensive and ongoing monitoring of all participants to prevent this type of incident from ever occurring again."

Hermann and Mustangs soccer coach Jon Melendez informed the team of the decision Tuesday morning.

"I want to commend all of our soccer players and coaches for the way they responded to receiving such disappointing news," Hermann said. "This is a great example of how participating in extracurricular activities provides so much more to our learners than just a healthy sense of competition. Activities led by excellent coaches teach life lessons that are difficult to portray through standard classroom engagement.

"The character that Coach Melendez has instilled in his players throughout the seasons has shown through during the toughest of times. While I am extremely sad and disappointed that this occurred, our highest priority right now is the well-being of our student-athletes. These are a group of young men that have dedicated their time and they worked very hard to get to this point. To have their season end this way is very disheartening for the players, their families and our coaches. I'm sorry that the situation happened, and it is my mission to ensure that this does not happen again."

District officials did not field questions from the media upon conclusion of the news conference. While officials were exiting the boardroom, a disgruntled supporter voiced his frustrations with the district.

"Who's going to pay for that?" the supporter shouted. "Who's going to make the error? Who did? Who made the error? It wasn't the kids."

Sheyenne senior goalkeeper Connor Anderson expressed his disappointment via social media.

"Extremely saddened and disappointed by the announcement this morning," Anderson wrote Tuesday on his Twitter account. "As a team we worked so hard just for an administrative mistake to cost us a state tournament appearance."

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West Fargo Sheyenne had to forfeit all its boys soccer games this season for using an ineligible player that led to the team being ruled out of the North Dakota state tournament.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

As a result of the forfeits, Fargo Shanley has qualified for the state tournament, which is Thursday through Saturday at West Fargo High School. The Deacons will be the East Region No. 3 seed.

It is the second time in three seasons Sheyenne has dealt with disappointment during the week of the state tournament.

In 2020, the Mustangs won their first game at the state tournament before they had to continue the remainder of the tournament without 23 varsity players due to COVID-19 exposure. Sheyenne played its junior varsity team in the state semifinals that season after a petition to postpone the state tournament was denied.

Sheyenne was the No. 1 seed from the East Region and posted an 11-0-4 record in the 2020 regular season and defeated Minot in the state quarterfinals. Century defeated the Mustangs 6-0 in the state semifinals and went on the win the state championship.

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For the second time in three seasons, the West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer program has faced disappointment during the week of the North Dakota state boys soccer tournament. The Mustangs had to forfeit all their games this season due to using an ineligible player.
David Samson / The Forum

Ryan Spitza joined The Forum in December 2021 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Marquette, Mich., a city of 20,000 on the southern shore of Lake Superior. He majored in multimedia journalism and minored in public relations at Northern Michigan University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in May 2019. While attending college, Spitza gained real-world experience covering high school and college athletics for both The Mining Journal and The North Wind.

Spitza can be reached at 701-451-5613 or rspitza@forumcomm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryspitza.
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