Hamilton, Bruce saga in quagmire


Adam Minichino



You have to admire the tenacity of the fans, parents and supporters of the Bruce High School baseball team. 


If the coaching staff or athletic administrators had exhibited similar diligence in pursuing a clarification of a rule neither the Bruce nor the Hamilton High School baseball teams would be in this quagmire. 


The situation involving the Mississippi High School Activities Association''s ruling to withdraw Bruce from the Class 2A state championship series due to a violation of a pitching restriction took another turn Friday when a motion was filed in Hinds County Chancery Court to get the team reinstated. 


The motion, filed by Art Spratlin and Ryan Beckett, attorneys with the Butler, Snow law firm in Ridgeland, seeks "injunctive relief" from the MHSAA''s decision. 


The Calhoun County Journal first reported the news Friday afternoon on its website. The information happened so late in the day that Hamilton High School baseball coach Lewis Earnest didn''t know of it until he was told by a reporter later that afternoon. 


The issue likely will have to wait until Monday to be resolved. At that time, MHSAA Executive Director Ennis Proctor is expected to enlist lawyers. If the motion for "injunctive relief" is denied, expect the lawyers who represent the Bruce High players and parents to file an appeal, which will kick the matter up the legal food chain. 


Given the Class 2A State title series between Richton and Hamilton is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl, the lawyers better talk quickly because it could throw the whole week of baseball into chaos. 


But that''s the point and the people who hired the lawyers are within their rights to keep this fight going as long as possible. They feel they have not received due process and that there are problems with the ruling of Proctor and the MHSAA Executive Committee, which denied Bruce High School''s appeal and upheld Proctor''s ruling. 


To review, Bruce pitcher Caleb Hanley threw 4 2/3 innings May 15 in Bruce''s 6-5 victory against Hamilton in game three of the Class 2A North Half State title series. The victory helped Bruce win the series two games to one. The final 2/3 of an inning put Hanley over the allotment of 17 in a week mandated by the MHSAA. A calendar week is defined in the MHSAA Handbook on page 20 under Rule c. Rules governing Baseball: "Calendar week defined as Monday through Sunday." Rule j on page 20 states, "A pitcher shall not pitch more than 17 innings per week."  


The ruling spurred baseball fans and Bruce supporters into action. Internet chat rooms lit up with accusations that Hamilton had erred in scheduling classic games and that it was guilty of having at least one player from outside the school district on its team. The MHSAA would have penalized Hamilton if both were found to be true. The Lions weren''t. 


Unfortunately, things like that have become all too common in today''s society. The cloak of anonymity often leads some to believe they know all and can say anything without repercussions. 


Let''s not forget that word: Repercussions.  


The Calhoun County Journal reported that Calhoun County Superintendent Mike Moore, School Board attorney Paul Moore Jr., and School Board member Bozzie Edwards disagreed with the MHSAA''s decision and said: 


"Everywhere I have been -- Vardaman, Calhoun City -- everyone has agreed this was a wrongful decision," Moore said. "I think due process was wrong, we weren''t treated fairly (by MHSAA) and the rule is clearly vague. I''m 100 percent for this team because I think they were done wrong." 


Said Moore Jr., "The rule was vague so they should have left it on the baseball field." 


The complaint also chastises Earnest, his coaches, and Hamilton for not acting. It says, "Hamilton should be equitably stopped from raising a rules interpretation challenge two days after losing the game, when it could have raised the challenge on the field of play, and the MHSAA should be equitably stopped from hearing Hamilton''s complaint and punishing Bruce. Hamilton''s coach scouted the May 10 Bruce game against Eupora, and he was well aware of the innings pitched by Hanley, as well as knowing the innings pitched by Hanley on May 14 against Hamilton. "Rather than objecting at the time, or consulting the umpire, or consulting Coach (sic) (Sid) Burt, Hamilton''s coach continued to let the game be played knowing that (by his calculations) Hanley had pitched two-thirds of an inning in excess of the 17 innings rule.  


"It is unfair, and inequitable, for Hamilton''s coach and/or principal to wait until after the baseball game was played and lost, to then complain about the additional two-thirds inning pitched by Hanley (according to Hamilton''s interpretation of the rule)." 


Moore has a point when he says "the rule is clearly vague." The MHSAA handbook uses the word "week" and "school week" in defining its restrictions, which creates confusion. But Burt and the Bruce baseball program assumed the word "week" meant one thing and, according to all accounts, didn''t receive verbal or written clarification from the MHSAA. 


One phone call could have helped avoid this situation. 


That''s why it''s curious Bruce then attempts to blame Hamilton for not catching its mistake. It isn''t Hamilton''s responsibility to police or to monitor Bruce''s pitchers. From all accounts, questions were raised immediately after the game about pitching restrictions and the matter then went through channels in attempt to find a resolution. 


The "fairness" or inequity" of the MHSAA''s ruling or the actions of Hamilton aren''t and shouldn''t be allowed to be a defense. 


Bruce broke a rule. It was discovered. It was penalized. The fact that the timing of the penalty could prevent Bruce from playing for a state also doesn''t matter. It only has helped to inflame the situation. 


There''s nothing wrong with fighting for your cause, but the passion of that cause shouldn''t be allowed to blind people of the only issue that matters: Bruce broke a rule and it should be punished. 




Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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