Notre Dame Prep’s ‘Hail Mary’ to avoid AIA penalty

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                </div>  Notre Dame Prep has just thrown a ‘Hail Mary’ pass, with far more riding on the outcome than just a game win. The Catholic high school in north Scottsdale […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Notre Dame Prep has just thrown a ‘Hail Mary’ pass, with far more riding on the outcome than just a game win.

The Catholic high school in north Scottsdale just suspended its football coach in an effort to convince the state’s governing body for prep sports to reverse a penalty imposed last week that would make the Notre Dame football team ineligible for the playoffs.

Coach Mark Nolan will not be on the sidelines for tomorrow night’s homecoming game against Vista Grande High School.  According to an article by Richard Obert in this morning’s Arizona Republic, the school has contacted the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) to confirm the suspension of Nolan and the possibility that a formal appeal could be filed as early as today with the AIA.

NDP President Jim Gmelich was planning to meet with parents last night before the school moved ahead with the appeal.  According to the well-detailed article by Obert, it was a group of parents who requested the suspension of Nolan, asking in a letter to the Phoenix Diocese that both Nolan and Gmelich be either suspended or removed from their positions altogether.

The lateness of the appeal was explained by one parent who said: “Notre Dame has really circled the wagons and left everybody guessing (as to what action they would take regarding the AIA penalty).  We waited until the last possible minute because I think everybody thought Notre Dame was going to do the right thing.”

Tomorrow is the deadline to submit an appeal to the AIA.

Even if the appeal is filed in time, there is no guarantee it would lead to a lifting of the ruling that has made the Saints football program, which has already wrapped up its region championship, ineligible to play in the 5A state playoffs.

If the appeal is filed, the AIA would have to call an emergency meeting of its Executive Board to rule on the appeal by the end of Friday since the playoff seedings are schedule to be announced Saturday.

The ineligibility ruling came down from the Executive Council last week, ending a four-month review of a potential bylaws violation after Nolan and his staff held a summer football ‘class’ with players in helmets and full pads.  AIA bylaws limit member schools to non-contact activities and weight training during the off-season, allowing only equipment such as footballs, kicking tees, and cleats.

The issue was brought up in the first AIA Executive Board meeting of the year, in August, during which Gmelich and Athletic Director Monica Barrett were questioned for nearly an hour.  The board tabled a vote, feeling it needed more information before making a final decision on the penalties.

In the October meeting, the ruling was handed down, and within a week the NDP parents had hired an attorney and set up an online petition that has reportedly gathered more than 500 signatures asking for the removal of Gmelich.

The clock is ticking as the parent movement goes forward, hoping to get a reversal in time to celebrate before the team takes the field tomorrow night and honors its graduating players on Seniors Night.