Skyridge football coach suspended, school fined for use of ineligible player

Nov 9, 2023, 8:00 AM

High school team takes field...

American Fork and Skyridge in American Fork on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

LEHI — The executive committee of the Utah High School Activities Association handed down a decision Wednesday night that could have an effect on the remainder of the 6A state football playoffs.

Skyridge head coach Justin Hemm has been suspended two weeks and two games, and the program will be on a one-year probation for the use of an ineligible player for the most recent two games, the organization announced late Wednesday night.

The report, which was submitted by Skyridge to the Region 3 board of managers as dictated by UHSAA bylaws, states that Hemm — who is also the team’s offensive play caller — will be suspended from “all activities for a period of two weeks which would include two games,” and the school fined $3,000 for a lack of institutional control in two incidences that led to playing the unnamed player.

During the program’s probation, Skyridge will be tasked to “take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the recurrence of these infractions” and report to the association each action it has taken and all results, according to a news release.

Pleasant Grove, which most recently lost to fourth-seeded Skyridge 37-30 in last week’s 6A state quarterfinals at the Lehi-based school, filed an objection with the committee asking for the most recent game to be vacated for the use of an ineligible player.

The objection included a presentation from the UHSAA handbook, which includes a statement in section 7 that pertains to ineligible players competing in games.

“Contests in which an ineligible player/participant competes shall result in the head coach being suspended for all consecutive sport activities (contests, practice, meetings, etc.) and at all team levels for the number of contests in which the ineligible player/participant competed,” the rule states. “Suspension will carry over to the next school year where applicable. Additional sanctions may be applied to the coaching staff and/or the school by the Region Board of Managers, the Executive Committee or the Board of Trustees.”

But parents and officials from the Vikings who contacted cited precedent from previous rulings against Lone Peak in 2019 and East in 2012 that did not provide such punishment. The Knights were required to vacate eight wins from the regular season, entering the playoffs at 1-9 after a player was ruled ineligible for not registering their transfer with the state’s database.

Alpine School District called the mistake a “clerical error” at the time.

In East’s case, the then-top ranked Leopards were dropped to 1-4 in Region 6 play overnight and immediately eliminated from the postseason following the board’s unanimous decision. The same year, Timpview received a three-game win vacation for the use of an ineligible player stemming from “checking the wrong box” on paperwork, according to the Deseret News.

“There is no doubt that forfeiture is a harsh penalty,” the committee’s decision read. “Nevertheless, the association has repeatedly affirmed and enforced such a penalty for the use of ineligible players. Indeed, the association recognizes that most, if not all, governing organizations of sports regularly impose forfeiture of games in which ineligible players participate.”

After arguments were heard from representatives from both Skyridge and Pleasant Grove, the UHSAA executive committee — which is led by principals and athletic directors from across the state — “took the matter under advisement while it considered the evidence and the possible penalties,” according to the UHSAA statement.

Neither the high school activities association or Alpine School District responded to further requests for comment.

One parent told Wednesday that they received a cease-and-desist letter for “asking too many questions.” Many parents took to social media to speak out against the decision, as well.

The defending 6A champion Falcons (10-2) will face top-seeded American Fork (11-1) in a 6A state semifinal Friday at 11 a.m. MST at Rice-Eccles Stadium. No. 2 Corner Canyon (11-1) and No. 3 Lehi (10-2) will contest the other semifinal at 2:30 p.m.

The 6A state championship is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 17 at 2:30 p.m. MST at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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Skyridge football coach suspended, school fined for use of ineligible player