The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board ruled Thursday that Williams Field High School senior offensive lineman Noah Nelson and Hamilton freshman defensive end Chandler Davis were eligible to compete the rest of the season.
The ruling came after Nelson and Davis were found to have violated AIA bylaw 14.4.1, which is the non-school participation rule.
“I believe we did the right thing,” said David Hines, the executive director of the AIA. “They’ve already sat out because they did notify us that there was a potential problem. There was no more need to suffer any additional penalty.”
According to the 2019-20 AIA Constitution Bylaws & Policies and Procedures Book, “A student who is a member or becomes a member of a school team shall not practice, have practiced or compete with any other group, club, organization, association, etc., in that sport during the interscholastic season of competition.
“Any student violating the above rule shall forfeit his/her eligibility for a minimum of the balance of the season for that sport or up to a maximum of one calendar year.”
On Monday, Sept. 23, Nelson, an Oklahoma commit, and Davis had both been working out at Athletes Performance Enhancement (APE), a training facility in Chandler. Davis approached Nelson and asked for tips since he was being moved up to the varsity roster. Nelson agreed to help him, and the two engaged in two repetitions in which they went against one another.
There was no trainer instructing the two during the drill. However, one of the APE trainers recorded them and posted it to social media on Thursday, Sept. 26. Neither player knew they were recorded.
Nelson and Davis were informed on the morning of Friday, Sept. 27 they had been ruled ineligible and sat out the game that night.
“I was just trying to go out there and help someone,” Nelson said. “I can see where they might have seen a problem with it but I’m happy that it all got resolved in the end.”
The news sparked outrage on social media, as many claimed the AIA’s non-participation rule was not clear.
Both Nelson and Davis separately explained the situation to the governing board behind closed doors during the special meeting Thursday morning.
Just over an hour later, the board announced that while there was a violation, they felt that due to the circumstances of the violation, the players should be allowed to play.
“It’s big for the team, I had to tell the kids not to all come down here because they wanted to,” Williams Field coach Steve Campbell said. “I think sometimes people who aren’t in high school athletics don’t always understand how the process works.
“Every time I’ve been in a situation like this the AIA has come back and decided to do what is best for the kids.”
Hines believes the board made the right decision in allowing both Nelson and Davis to be eligible right away. He said the rule has “gray area,” and it would be revisited during the AIA’s Oct. 14 Sportsmanship & Ethics Committee meeting.
“We need to look at this rule,” Hines said. “Even though we’ve talked about it for many years, we have to come up with either it’s just one thing or we do away with the rule. It’s creating problems for the schools and for the board to determine what in reality is going on.
“When we see a video of two students going one-on-one with a trainer filming it, that’s a problem. Then we have the kids tell us what really went on and that was the case in this instance.”
Nelson’s mother and stepfather were in attendance for the meeting. They were both pleased with the board’s decision reinstate his eligibility and allow him to finish his senior season.
“We are pretty excited about it,” said Brian Yox, Nelson’s stepfather. “Clearly, he’s trying to work with another player to help him and that’s sportsmanship. Unfortunately, not knowing the rule we got caught up in this situation.
“But I applaud the board for what they did in realizing there was no malicious intent to go against the rule.”
Williams Field began the season 0-2 but has won its last four games. Nelson will be on the field Friday night as the Black Hawks take on Gilbert. Meanwhile Davis, who was moved up to the varsity roster last week but had to sit out due to the violation, will have the opportunity to see the field this week when the 6-0 Huskies take on 6-0 Brophy.
“It feels great now that I am able to get back out there with my team,” Nelson said. “It was questionable about what my future with the team would be so I’m very excited that now I get to go out there and play with them.”