By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
The Midlothian Heritage football team was dealt a heavy, heartbreaking blow Wednesday. The news then eventually broke Thursday that program had forfeited its week 9 district victory against Crandall.
Before pointing a finger or vocalizing misguided disdain, let’s first digest a couple of important facts.
The first being that the Midlothian Heritage football program is one built on integrity and service before self. It was, after all, just over four months ago that these same players and coaches volunteered their weekend at Midlothian-based Gloryland Express, a para-church bus ministry, to repair and repaint buses and buildings.
It also takes just one conversation with a Jaguar to notice how polished and courteous they are and how much they love and admire their head coach, Lee Wiginton.
Let’s now blow through the details that led to Thursday.
Wiginton self-reported to the UIL the use of an ineligible player during the first half of a District 9-4A game this past Friday against Crandall. The Jaguars went on to win the game, 23-7.
And, though the player did take the field, he did not factor significantly into the first half successes for the Jaguars.
That player was by-rule ineligible for the first half due to 1. His being ejected during the first half of the Heritage-Athens game on Friday. Oct. 18 and 2. A rule changed by the UIL competition committee in June 2018 and adopted by the Commissioner of Education on Aug. 1, 2018.
According to the UIL handbook and press release at the time of the rule change, the amendment came after an “increasing number of player ejections” across the state. The amendment notes that a player ejected from a football game will now miss the remainder of that game plus the first half of the next contest. Players ejected in other UIL sports — excluding soccer — will miss the remainder of the match ejected from plus the next game.
Prior to the change, a player ejected in the first half of a football game was eligible to fully participate in the next contest, while a player ejected in the second half would have to sit out the first half of the next game. It was a rule that is consistent and still in place in the NCAA.
It was also an update missed by Wiginton, his staff and, very likely, dozens of other coaching staffs across the state.
None of that warrants a reprieve from the rule, though, and Wiginton would be the first to admit it.
For those unaware of the post-ejection process, the head official is responsible for reporting the ejection to the UIL. The governing body then typically sends an email to the respective head coach with details on the ejection and how to proceed, usually including an attachment that defines the new ejection rule.
Neither happened following the Jaguar ejection, which was also the first-ever ejection for Wiginton to experience during his 19-year tenure as a head coach.
Wiginton refuses to use either as a scapegoat.
Due to the forfeit, Heritage now sits at 4-4 on the season and 2-1 in District 9-4A.
Crandall (6-2, 3-0 in 9-4A), which benefitted most from the forfeit, will likely now win the district championship outright, as the Pirates will face Quinlan Ford and Athens in their final two games.
That also means the Heritage road game Friday against (6-2, 2-1) Life Waxahachie will decide the second seed in the district standings. It will also afford Heritage an opportunity to re-secure a playoff spot that the Jaguars had previously nailed down pre-forfeit.
News of the forfeit was first reported by Matt Stepp of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
During a phone conversation with Wiginton on Thursday afternoon, the ball coach spoke at a much more measured pace than his typical upbeat and inspiring manner.
And, no, it wasn’t that he was attempting to remain politically correct or spin a story.
He was — and is — genuinely heartbroken.
To hear such a communal pillar and God-fearing man repeatedly use words like “fail,” “fault” and “ignorance” to explain the events that unfolded over the past week were, well, heartbreaking.
Then take into account he used those words to say, “I failed the kids, coaches and the community. It’s my fault that my ignorance took something away from them that they have worked so hard for”…
There just aren’t words to adequately describe the feeling I had on the other end of the line. It felt unfair that one man, especially one who cares so deeply about a program and community, was left to shoulder such a heavy burden.
But that powerful statement speaks to the character of Wiginton, a quality that he has proven to instill in his players and program.
One of the true tests of man is how he reacts when faced with an opportunity to admit mistake. He could pass blame, sure. Or even deny until blue in the face.
Wiginton instead owned his mistake. And he did so facing those who most felt the repercussions. He also did so while looking at his son, Haydon, who is a junior wide receiver for the Jaguars.
To have the gumption to stand before his coaching staff, players and parents on Wednesday and accept the sole responsibility for a genuinely honest oversight is remarkable in this social media-driven age.
He didn’t take to Twitter or issue a statement on Facebook. He owned it and prayed before and after. Both of which, we should applaud.
Though football is king in Texas, let us not forget that life does not begin nor end on Friday night. The game — when coached by guys like Wiginton — is a molder of men, teaching teenagers life skills to help them succeed long after their final snap.
A lesson was learned by the Jaguars, their coaches and, hopefully, the Midlothian community this week. Unfortunately, not all lessons come free.
The sting of defeat sucks. There’s no way around it. That feeling is only exasperated when it comes well after a believed victory.
But for every valley of despair, there is a mountain top of pride. Because even in your deepest, darkest moments, there will eventually be an opportunity to rise above your failures and stand proudly before any doubters.
Today will not define tomorrow unless we allow it. We have the God-given ability to choose — choose our path, mindset, moments to attack, times to withdraw and mountains to stand at the foot of and face.
Wiginton and the Jaguars begin their climb Friday.
Now isn’t the time to point fingers or place blame. It’s an opportunity for us to rally around their journey.
Kickoff from Mustang Stadium in Waxahachie is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith