What makes this time of the fall high school sports season so exciting is the finality of it all. One team wins, one team goes home. One team survives, game after game, and becomes a champion.
Which is what makes what happened to the players on the Holland girls soccer team so awful.
Take the most heart-wrenching, kick-in-the-gut, hard-luck defeat you can think of, and those girls would probably take it right now. At least they would have been on the field and had a chance.
The Holland girls, ranked first among Western New York small schools all season, didn't even get the opportunity to play this postseason. Holland played 17 games during the regular season, which is one more than the state limit.
And that was that. Holland's season ended.
And, unfortunately for the players, it should have. The girls didn't deserve it at all, but there is no other way for this story to end. A major rule was broken and there are, in the painfully appropriate words of Section VI girls soccer chairman Chris Durr, "severe consequences."
It was too egregious a rule violation to be overlooked, which is why the New York State Public High School Athletic Association denied the school's final appeal Tuesday afternoon.
High school sports can be so rewarding because of the life lessons they can provide, how experiences on the playing field can be applied to real life. This one, excruciatingly, is almost working the other way around.
This was a very unfortunate breakdown in leadership from Holland's athletic department, one from which there was no bailout. Frankly, it is inexcusable to have scheduled -- and played -- too many games.
But the life lessons are here, too. Holland coach Leanne Gedraitis and athletic director Allan Bett have been accountable for the error.
"They've stood hand-in-hand and took responsibility and accountability," Principal James Biryla said in a telephone conversation from the school Tuesday evening. "And they're in there right now [meeting with players and their families]."
Holland, a district without football, loves its soccer. One way in which Biryla said the girls will cope is to throw themselves behind the boys team, which is seeded third in Class C.
"The girls have handled it with such class," he said. "They'll just rally around the boys and their playoffs now. We'll have to live vicariously through them."
Biryla said he wasn't sure if anything would be planned for the girls team, since the group was still absorbing the denial of the appeal.
At 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the Holland boys host a Section VI quarterfinal that will be the final home soccer game of the season (if the Dutchmen win, they advance to next week's semifinals at Pioneer). Hopefully the girls can be honored then in some way.
It would be great if they could don their uniforms and cleats again -- especially the seniors -- and hear their names over the public address system:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the No. 1 girls soccer small school in Western New York! Your ECIC IV champions!
"Eighth-grader Olivia Schmidt and sophomore Chelsea Grupp;
"juniors Jillian Faltyn, Sydney Grupp, Jamie Jones, Kaylyn Jones, Hannah Knopf, Victoria Mest, Katie Petrell and Abby Schmidt;
"seniors Shannon Chowaniec, Emily Dutton, Candis Kapuscinski, Meghan Nowak, Alexis Reile, Katherine Shananan and Caterina Smith!"
Get 'em on the field -- pregame, or halftime, or maybe a victory lap. Let them kick the ball around after the boys game. Or have the JV or youth players join them for an expanded intrasquad scrimmage in what would be a Holland soccer celebration.
Then, have their season end the way it would have no matter how far they advanced.
Give them a standing ovation, and let them walk off the field.
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