By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
A random audit of the John Wood Community College baseball team by the National Junior College Athletic Association has uncovered an ineligible student-athlete, and the Trail Blazers will have to forfeit 16 victories.
Ranked 11th in the latest NJCAA Division II national poll, JWCC was 31-10 following Wednesday's sweep of Lewis & Clark and was leading the MidWest Athletic Conference with an 18-6 record.
With the forfeits, the Trail Blazers now sit at 15-26 overall and 7-17 and in eighth place in the MWAC.
"The guys are devastated," JWCC coach Greg Wathen said.
JWCC athletic director Brad Hoyt was informed last week the baseball program had been randomly selected for an eligibility audit. According to Hoyt, five percent of the teams nationally are audited each season.
This is the first time JWCC has been audited.
The NJCAA requires all eligibility paperwork to be submitted, including but not limited to high school transcripts, college transcripts and national letters of intent. Hoyt submitted a 100-page packet to the NJCAA last Thursday.
Hoyt received a reply Monday questioning the status of one player. According to Hoyt, the player in question was mistakenly coded as a high school graduate.
"His final transcript accepted by the college indicates something called a certificate of completion was earned, complete with a high school seal, registrar's signature and a completion date," Hoyt said.
The college certified it as a final transcript, indicating a high school diploma was earned. However, a certificate of completion is not the equivalent of a high school diploma.
"I take responsibility for the error," Hoyt said.
The student-athlete is immediately ineligible. The college will assist him in completing his high school diploma if he chooses, and the college is not releasing his name.
The possibility exists he could return to the baseball team once he completes his diploma and is cleared by the NJCAA.
"He was eligible after his first semester here," Wathen said. "He did everything from a college standpoint that he's supposed to."
Wathen believes the college and the baseball program have done everything possible to play within the NJCAA rules. Unique wording on some documentation caused the hiccup.
"We feel like everything we've done is legit," Wathen said. "I don't know how people will perceive that."
The Trail Blazers were in the midst of a remarkable turnaround.
John Wood finished last in the MWAC last season, and with a collection of players Wathen has affectionately dubbed the "island of misfits" because of their paths here and their perseverance, the Trail Blazers have steadily made themselves a contender to reach the national tournament.
First, they have to qualify for the Region 24 Tournament.
Only the top six teams get invited to the tournament, which begins May 8 in Springfield.
"That's our goal still," Wathen said. "If we can, we've already proven we can play with all of these guys."
JWCC has eight games remaining -- four each against Parkland and Heartland -- and could play itself into the tournament, although it won't be as a No. 1 or 2 seed like it appeared it might be.
"Going into this year, we thought if we could make the tournament anything could happen," Wathen said. "We've got a good club and we've proven that. So I guess our goal goes back to that now."