SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - The Utah High School Activities Association has reversed a previous ruling that forced East High School out of the playoffs over player eligibility infractions.
As a result, East will be allowed to participate in a play-in game Tuesday against Mountain View.
UHSHAA also ruled that East High’s coach Brandon Matich will be suspended for three games, including the playoffs, should the Leopards advance that far.
The school will also be fined $6,000 and received three year's probation. Despite an 8-1 record, the Leopards will not be allowed to host a playoff game.
The ruling also forced East to give up its Region 6 title, making them the fourth seed in the playoffs instead of the first.
"Our kids get to play and that's the most important thing," said Matich fighting back tears. "I can handle all the other stuff. It wasn't a recruiting thing, nothing was done with negligence and nothing was done to gain a competitive advantage. This is about kids and we wanted the kids to play. I think justice was served."
"I'm so happy we get the chance to to play," said senior safety Niel Robbins. "We've worked way too hard for this."
On Thursday, the UHSAA ruled that East must forfeit seven of its eight victories, eliminating the school from post-season competition. But on Friday, the board of trustees reversed its decision, citing extenuating circumstances.
"Because of the total number of games for East and the timing of the discovery, the panel felt some remorse there," said UHSAA director Rob Cuff. "So, they assigned them the last possible playoff spot in Region 6 to allow the kids to play."
East High principal Paul Sagers offered to resign if it meant the Leopards would be allowed to play in the post-season. That turned out to be unnecessary.
"We've never worked so hard for something," Sagers said. "It helped that we knew we were right. We had done nothing intentional and nothing malicious."
Four East players, Tennessee Suesue, Dwayne Finau, Lorenzo Manu and Gabriel Gutierrez had previously been ruled ineligible over a paperwork error. All four players had transferred from other schools, but the proper paperwork was never field. East High athletic director Kathy Butler accepted full responsibility and resigned after 23 years at the school.
"Words can't express how I feel right now," said Helaman Suesue, the father of Tennessee, who is still ruled ineligible. "I feel blessed and I'm glad they came out with the right ruling."