Rifle FB coach on suspension: ‘We would never, ever cheat’
Following the incident on Nov. 22 during Rifle’s 35-7 3A semifinal victory over Fort Morgan, CHSAA revisited rules about sideline access.
“The committee defined who is allowed inside a team’s coaching box as only the personnel of that team. Team videographers can be considered part of a team’s personnel. No one else will be allowed inside a 5-yard radius of the coaching box. Others on the sideline will be allowed from the 20-yard-lines and toward the goal-lines.”
RIFLE — Damon Wells was emphatic about his feelings in regards to the Colorado High School Activities Association’s recent suspension of the Rifle High School football program.
“We would never, ever cheat,” the Rifle head coach said. “We have never cheated, and there has never been a time when we would even consider cheating.”
Wells, who just finished his ninth season as the Bears’ coach, reacted to the penalty levied on his program by the Colorado High School Activities Association. The penalty, which stems from an incident involving a volunteer videographer, for now bans Rifle from the postseason for the upcoming 2015 season, but the school can avoid the punishment.
Rifle High Principal Todd Ellis on Monday confirmed that the football program had been suspended by CHSAA. Wells and Ellis added that the program can regain its postseason eligibility by showing it won’t repeat the previous infraction.
The suspension stemmed from Align Multimedia, based in Rifle, having a videographer wearing a headset inside of the opponent’s team coaching box on the sideline during Rifle’s Class 3A football semifinal against Fort Morgan at Bears Stadium on Nov. 22.
Rifle advanced to the Class 3A state championship game — its second in three years — with its 35-7 victory over the Mustangs, but lost the championship.
Officially, CHSAA has placed Rifle’s football program on restriction. Wells must sit out the first game of the upcoming season as part of the penalty, which was explained in a letter from Ellis to the Post Independent and Rifle Citizen Telegram.
“It’s not right that they punish the kids and the coaches,” Ellis said. “But they can’t punish the administrators, and we’re the ones who were responsible for not policing the sidelines enough.”
Ellis said in his letter that the school has already formed a plan of action to ensure a similar incident won’t happen again, per the CHSAA guidelines.
“When our administration creates an acceptable plan for preventing occurrences like this from happening again and shows good faith in implementing the plan, our team will be taken off of restriction and will be allowed to participate in postseason play in 2015,” the letter said. “We have created a plan and fully expect our team to be eligible for post-season play in 2015. We hope to have a positive response from CHSAA by mid season.
Ellis added that part of the procedure Rifle will focus on monitoring any media on the sidelines during the game. As far as allowing anyone near the opponents’ sideline, Ellis said that will be a “top priority.”
Phone calls to CHSAA Assistant Commissioners Harry Waterman and Bert Borgmann seeking comment were not returned. Also not returning a phone call was Kyle Blues, Fort Morgan High School’s athletic director, and Harrison Chisum, Fort Morgan’s football coach.
Prior to the incident, CHSAA had no rule prohibiting media of any kind from being inside of a team’s box on the sideline. Following the incident in November, CHSAA’s football committee on Dec. 9 met and defined who is allowed inside of the coaching box, which is limited only to team personnel.
Align Multimedia, formerly Spruce Creek Multimedia, has produced football highlight videos for the team for years but is not affiliated with the school.
Ryan Mackley, a co-owner of Align, confirmed that a volunteer videographer, who was helping film the state semifinal game, temporarily stepped into the player’s box on the sideline during the state semifinal. Ellis said it was “for probably only three plays.”
Ellis confirmed that Fort Morgan called CHSAA following that game and reported that the Align videographer was filming the game while talking into a headset.
Mackley defended the videographer.
“I am very proud of what we have accomplished and it has been a privilege to tell the stories of what has been, year in and year out, an extremely hard-working group of kids,” Mackley said in a statement to the Post Independent. “I am heartbroken that the accidental and well-intended actions of our volunteer production crew put the Rifle football program in this situation. The kids and coaches don’t deserve this outcome.”
Rifle has won four consecutive Class 3A Western Slope League championships, 21 in all, and has won three state championships in program history. The most recent came in 2004, when Rifle won the state title as a No. 16 seed in the 16-team tournament bracket. The program has posted a 50-11 record in the past five years.
“If you want to talk about ethics and character, I’ll put our program up against anybody,” Wells said. “And there’s people out there who don’t think that we should be able to compete at such a high level. Well, we sure can.”
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