Packers rock at Rumble, but transfer letter puts damper on stellar week
Last week, what should have been a time strictly for celebrating turned into one of uncertainty for the West Fargo wrestling program.
After placing second among 58 regional teams during the Rumble on the Red tournament at the Fargodome, the Packers were hit with news that Fargo North High School had filed a written complaint with the North Dakota High School Activities Association as to whether some West Fargo wrestlers were ineligible to compete.
The petition specifically points out brothers Tyler and Preston Lehmann, who both transferred this year to West Fargo; Tyler from Apple Valley (Minn.) High School, and Preston from Fargo North High School.
"The issue is dual residency," said Curt Jones, West Fargo High School activities director. Tyler and Preston's parents, Scott and Ellen, have homes in both West Fargo and north Fargo. Jones said the Lehmanns live in West Fargo, but run a business out of their north Fargo home.
According to NDHSAA bylaws, a family must totally vacate their existing home and move into a new school district to be immediately eligible to participate in activities. If there isn't a residency change, an athlete is required to sit out from competing for 180 school days.
The petition comes at a peculiar time, as Tyler played the entire football season with the Packers with nary a word from North.
"We had conversations with the (Fargo) North administration all along," Jones said. "We were up front with them from the beginning (about the transfers). We told them, 'if there is a problem let's deal with it now.'
"So I'm not sure what their motivation was to do it when they did."
Fargo North activities director Troy Cody said he would not comment on the issue "until NDHSAA has finished its investigation."
Dave Carlsrud, NDHSAA assistant to the executive secretary, said interviews for the investigation began Monday, Jan. 4, but would not elaborate.
If, after the investigation, it is discovered infractions occurred, the matter will go before the executive board, which holds its next scheduled meeting Jan. 23. A special meeting could be called earlier, however.
During the length of the investigation, Tyler and Preston will be allowed to continue competing.
NDHSAA executive secretary Sherm Sylling told the Fargo Forum that possible punishments could range from probation for the school, to suspension of the wrestlers.
"By our perception, (the Lehmanns have) been up front with us," Jones said. "They've been transparent with us and we've been transparent with the NDHSAA."
Though the spotlight has shifted momentarily off the mat, West Fargo's recent competitive accomplishments should not take a back seat.
At the Rumble, the Packers - who sit with a flawless 7-0 dual record and are ranked No. 2 in the North Dakota Class A poll - finished Day 1 in ninth place and managed to climb within four points of tournament winner Rapid City Stevens by the end of Day 2.
Tyler Lehmann and Scott Schiller took back-to-back titles at 189 and 215, respectively. Others finishing well were Eric Lehmann (fourth place, 171), Preston Lehmann (second place, 160), Tom Kuehn (fifth place, 125), and Jordan Shearer (fourth place, 103).
"We're excited," said Kayle Dangerud, West Fargo wrestling coach, of his team's success. "It's just another building block for this season."
When asked if the recent letter by Fargo North had affected his team in any way, Dangerud said "no."
"The only thing we can control is what we do on the mat," he said. "Our job is to practice and get better during practice and do the best we can when it comes to competition.
"There is no sense wasting time on anything else."
The Packers held true to that sentiment, powering to a 47-15 win over Grand Forks Central on Saturday. That momentum hopefully can carry through to this weekend, when West Fargo will compete against stiff competition at the Bismarck Rotary tournament Dec. 8-9.
Still, as the transfer investigation continues, Jones hopes for a quick conclusion so the impact on student-athletes stays at a minimum.
"For one, this is high school sports, and these are high school families -- and these are our families that live right next to us," he said. "We want this to be as little of a distraction to the family involved, as well as the wrestling team and athletic program."