A court ruling to regret
Rules are rules. And competition is competition. And sometimes there's conflict between rules and competition. And sometimes the wrong thing happens.
A young man from Concord-Carlisle High School lost a state sectional final tennis match Sunday because a rule was violated. A young man from Newton South was declared a winner because a rule was enforced. The shame of the matter is that the match was decided by a technicality. It was not decided on the tennis court.
Here's the situation: Concord-Carlisle's top singles player, Mark Berajawala, was leading Newton South's Alex Rastorgouev, 5-4, in the first set of their North Sectional semifinal at the Woburn Racquet Club when Rastorgouev and his coach, Ed Jackson, called something to the attention of MIAA site director Sam Colangelo. They said they didn't think Berajawala's coach was in attendance. They said this was a violation of MIAA rules. Colangelo asked Berajawala if he had an official coach in attendance. The boy said he did not. Attempts were made to find one of the two C-C coaches. Attempts failed. And even though a Concord-Carlisle parent offered to step in as coach, Colangelo said he was obligated to declare Rastorgouev winner by default. The same ruling was applied to the doubles match that was going on at the same time.
"I did what I had to do according to the rules of the MIAA," said Colangelo, who conceded, "If it hadn't been brought to my attention, I wouldn't have been aware."
Bill McGuirk, assistant director of the MIAA and liaison to the tennis committee, said, "Apparently that's been a longstanding, hard-and-fast rule which has been implemented before. We are trying to make sure we don't have unsupervised athletes."
Tom Severo, the missing coach, said he told Colangelo one day earlier that he would not be able to attend the Sunday match (which was the result of a scheduling change) because of a family conflict. He said he would send an assistant coach. The assistant never made it to the match. Severo didn't think it should have mattered. This was not a team competition, but an individual event.
"I know the rule might be in there, but it's not something that's adhered to, especially when we were already assured there were going to be line judges," said Severo. "I told [Colangelo] the day before that I couldn't be there and he never said, 'Then get someone there.'
"I know I'm looking like the jerk here, but it seems to me that that's a use of the rule to get a victory. It seems to be a perverse way to use the rule."
Jackson, coach at Newton South for 25 years, said, "There should have been someone there and he wasn't."
Why not just let the kids decide it on the court, Coach?
"There's a safety issue involved," said Jackson. "And it's not fair to the tournament director if something happens to the kid. How would you get in touch with anybody? We'd prefer to settle it on the court, of course, but I still think it was the right thing to do."
Rastorgouev and Berajawala have faced one another many times, including in US Tennis Association events. They've had trouble agreeing on calls (players make their own calls at the lower levels of competition), which is why Severo felt comfortable when he heard there would be tournament line judges in Woburn. Berajawala says he beat Rastorgouev, 6-1, 6-3, in a USTA event last September.
Berajawala, who will play tennis at Richmond in the fall, quit the undefeated (14-0) Concord-Carlisle team Monday and will not be involved in the MIAA team tournament, which starts June 2.
"This was about the Newton South coach trying to get his player to win any way possible," said Berajawala. "I guess that undermines the whole sportsmanship thing."
Rastorgouev, who will play for Boston College in the fall, was not sympathetic.
"I would have played him," said the South senior. "I think Mark is a great guy. But I didn't make the decision. I just pointed it out. I would have loved to have played him."
Suppose the tennis shoe had been on the other foot? What if Rastorgouev's coach was not there and he lost because Berajawala made an issue of the rule? How would Rastorgouev have felt about the outcome then?
"I think that's an unfair question to ask me," he answered. "I would have been more responsible and Mark should have been more responsible. It's a pretty big rule. I love the competition. I've never been one to turn down competition. It's not like I didn't want to play the guy."
Phil Goldberg, coach at Newton North, doesn't see it that way. (Newton North is not a tennis rival of Newton South; they are in different leagues and different sections of the state tournament.)
"I've been running this [South Sectional site] tournament for about 10 years and I've had many coaches call me that can't make it," said Goldberg, a 17-year high school tennis coach who won a state title with Newton North in 2002. "Sometimes a coach gets sick or can't show up. I don't see why a parent couldn't have stepped in. Technically, it's in the rules, but I just don't understand why it's so important. This is about the kids. Why penalize them? I've personally waived that rule many times. There's always the letter of the law, but let's play the match, let the best kid win, and move on."
Didn't happen. Rules are rules. Too bad the application of a rule sometimes runs counter to the spirit of the competition.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.