The Palo Alto boys' basketball team should be preparing for its first game in the Central Coast Section basketball playoffs. It should be business as usual for the Vikings. But, it's not.
There is no practice this week for Palo Alto. Moreover, there is no game. The postseason is over before it ever began.
Only days before they were to begin competing in the postseason, the Vikings learned that one of their players had completed his eligibility in Australia before enrolling at school in the fall. Thus, Palo Alto forfeited 11 games and will miss the CCS playoffs.
In a matter of hours, the Vikings went from beating rival Gunn on Friday night, 50-26, to finish the SCVAL De Anza Division in a second-place tie at 8-4 (16-8 overall) to the complete opposite. The 11 forfeits mean Palo Alto is now 4-8 in league, 5-19 overall and out of the playoffs.
"It's devastating to the program," said Palo Alto Athletic Director Earl Hansen, who informed the players and their parents during a meeting Saturday morning in the Paly gym. "There's never been one forfeit (in any sport) since I've been here, and I've been here since 1991."
The player involved is 6-foot-6 senior Ed Hall, who moved to Palo Alto with his family before the 2007-08 school year began. The family resides in an apartment in the downtown area. Since Hall moved into the district with his family, the only paperwork that Hall's family needed to produce was to prove his eligibility.
"The rule that was broken is that he completed eight semesters in Australia," Hansen said. "That's the maximum for the State of California. He was beginning his ninth semester here at Paly."
While Hansen and Palo Alto boys' basketball coach Peter Diepenbrock were told by Hall's parents that Hall had not graduated, they failed to inquire if Hall had completed eight semesters of work. In Australia, a student isn't a high school graduate until taking an exit exam. Hall did not take that exam, thus his parents believed their son was still eligible since he, technically, had not graduated.
Hansen said there was never any question to whether Hall was ineligible.
"There wasn't any in my mind, not at the beginning. I verified that he was enrolled and taking the right number of classes. (But) there were red flags later; certain things were missing."
One piece of paperwork that showed Hall had indeed completed his eligibility, according to California Interscholastic Federation rules, was missing when Hall arrived on campus. No one -- not Hansen, Diepenbrock or even CCS commissioner Nancy Lazenby Blaser -- believed anything was amiss at the start of the school year.
As time went by and that needed paperwork did not show up, however, concerns arose. Lazenby Blaser reportedly had to hire a consultant to look into Hall's transcripts. Hansen decided that at the end of the first semester on January 25 that Hall could no longer play on the Paly basketball team until the issue was finally resolved.
"As soon as I found out there were some discrepancies, he (Hall) did not play again," Hansen said. "He hasn't played since the start of the second semester."
Hansen was emphatic that "This was not taken lightly. There was full disclosure. I don't think there was anyone trying to hide anything . . . There were just a couple of questions that weren't asked (before Hall enrolled) . . . I'm not happy about this at all."
After finally receiving confirmation of Hall's status, Lazenby Blaser contacted Hansen via an e-mail this past Wednesday to inform him of the decision that Palo Alto would have to forfeit the 11 games that Hall played in.
Hansen and Diepenbrock decided to wait to tell the players and their parents until after Friday night's game with Gunn. Since Hall did not play in either win over Gunn, the Titans remain in second place instead of tying Cupertino (10-2) for first.
As for Palo Alto, "We're done," Hansen said. "There's no appeal process to get into the playoffs. It's unfortunate for the kids, who didn't do anything."
Diepenbrock informed the Hall family of the forfeits on Saturday morning, before meeting with the other players and parents.
"Peter said the Halls are devastated by the whole thing," Hansen said.
Hall actually attended Palo Alto High in 2005 and wanted to play basketball on the eventual CIF Division II state championship team. Diepenbrock, however, denied Hall that chance because he was living with a cousin in Palo Alto and was returning to Australia in December. But then the entire family moved to Palo Alto in late summer.
"That's what basically caused the problem," Diepenbrock said. "If you move your entire family here, you don't need the paperwork."
Diepenbrock even conferred with longtime Milpitas coach Jeff Lamb, a person very knowledgeable about CIF rules. Lamb, too, believed everything was on the up-and-up in regards to Hall's situation. Diepenbrock contacted Lazenby Blaser last May and informed her that he might have this player arriving from Australia and that she should be aware of it.
"She (Lazenby Blaser) told Earl that Australians were coming here for extra eligibility," Diepenbrock said, "and that it was a statewide problem."
Upon arriving, Ed Hall's mother also contacted the CCS office to check on her son's eligibility. Yet, nothing surfaced on Hall. Until last week.
"I was sure he was fine," Diepenbrock said.
The situation Palo Alto finds itself in today, however, says otherwise.
Diepenbrock said his meeting with the Paly players was what one could expect.
"It was double anything you feel at the end of the season," Diepenbrock said. "These guys are extra sad that their season is over."
While Palo Alto wasn't expected to go too deep into the postseason, Diepenbrock nevertheless believe his team was tighter than any one before it.
"No group that I've ever had enjoyed being being together more," he said. "Every game was like a festival."
But, the party is over. At least for this season.
"We all feel bad," Diepenbrock said. "We all feel sad. But, as I told the players, 'imagine how your buddy Ed feels.' "