A Stolen Victory: Reliving the Controversial Call in the Boys Basketball PAC-10 Championship Game

Storm the court

Life is an unfair game, and the PV Boys Basketball team found that out in heart-breaking fashion on February 9, 2016 in the PAC-10 Championship game when they had a championship stolen from them. Mike Poysden’s team put what happened behind them and went on a run in districts, falling one game short of qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time in program history. Yet, what happened on that Tuesday night is still not justifiable, and should have ended a different way than it did. What exactly happened?

First, imagine being one of the elite scorers in your team’s history, and knowing every game your opponent’s game plan is revolved around stopping you, but you still put up 20 points a night. Imagine achieving a lifelong dream of being appointed to the United States Military Academy, and taking on the primary leadership role as a senior for the first time. Imagine locking yourself in the weight room all summer because you know you have to become a tough post player for your team to be successful. Imagine being the primary ball-handler on a team whose offensive success is based on eating clock and limiting turnovers. Imagine having to hone post moves as a way for your team, whose limited in size, to score inside the paint. Imagine being a quirky freshman off the bench, and surprising everyone with your ability to score the ball. Imagine being a calming force as a ball-handler, and coming into the game to help facilitate the offense and help when the defensive is pressuring the ball. Imagine being a tough, scrappy kid who made it known he’d be a force down the road in limited playing time as a sophomore. Imagine knowing you won’t play that much, if at all, as a senior, and still being the first ones at practice to work your teammates.

Then imagine starting your season 2-5, with no one expecting you to make a run at the league playoffs. Imagine having to beat your rival on their senior night, just to have a chance at clinching a PAC-10 Final Four spot. Imagine taking down an undefeated league opponent in the semifinals with everyone picking against you. Imagine having the chance to face your rival for a third time in one season for the championship. Imagine beating your rival on their own court to win the championship after hitting a game-winning buzzer beater. Imagine being in the center of the court, rushed by your student section in celebration as they stormed. Imagine being a PAC-10 Champion, and having it taken away from you by an inaccurate rules interpretation by the officials.

Photographer: Bonnie Yoder
Photographer: Bonnie Yoder

That is exactly what happened to the Perkiomen Valley Vikings on that fateful Tuesday night. As PAC-10 first team junior guard Justin Jaworski launched a floater from the free throw line that hung on the front rim for an eternity before falling in to put his team up 46-45 with a second remaining, everyone in Spring-Ford’s gym thought PV had just won their second PAC-10 Championship in four years. Spring-Ford quickly in-bounded the ball and threw up a desperate full court shot to no avail, and PV’s students stormed the court, thinking their team had won.

After the students were cleared from the court, the officials gathered near center court. After a short deliberation, they assessed a technical foul on PV for two reasons: there was still time left in the game (clock showed 0.01 – that’s a lot of “time”) and Spring-Ford had called a timeout prior to the ball being in-bounded after Jaworski’s shot. Spring-Ford hit one of two free throws and “won” the game in overtime.

The officials stole that game from Perkiomen Valley, after the Vikings fought back to earn a PAC-10 Championship. What happened was a massive crime, and an inaccurate interpretation of a rule in the heat of the moment. 

For awhile before the call was made, I told myself there was no possible way any official would make a call to decide a game in that fashion,” said senior forward Sean Moriarity. “When I talked to the one ref I told him how unbelievable it was that he could just stand there and take the game into his own hands. I told him he was breaking my heart. For a kid such as myself who has no plans of playing sports in college, the PAC-10 Championship was, and is the Super Bowl. It was the biggest prize of my high school career and despite its perceived insignificance, it means something to high school athletes like me. I will never get an opportunity to play for something like that again, nor will I ever be officially recognized as a PAC-10 Champion. Having something taken away in that fashion is something I will not be able to get over.

Under Section 8, Article 1 of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which governs the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association): “the home management or game committee is responsible for spectator behavior, insofar as it can reasonably be expected to control the spectators.” It goes on by saying “the officials may rule fouls on either team if its supporters act in such way as to interfere with the proper conduct of the game.” Lastly, the key part of this article states “discretion must be used in ruling such fouls, however, LEST a team by unjustly penalized.” The refs certainly used discretion, and to say the Vikings were unjustly penalized would be an understatement.

Casebook 2.8.1 follows Section 8 and asks the following: What guidelines should be exercised by the officials when spectators’ actions are such that they interfere with the administration of the game? The question is answered with this ruling:

“The rules book states “officials may rule fouls on either team if its supporters act in such a way as to interfere with the proper conduct of the game.” It is significant to note the word used is “may.” This gives permission, but does not in any way imply that officials must call technical fouls on team followers or supporters for unsporting acts. Thus, while officials do have the authority to penalize a team whose spectators interfere with the proper conduct of the game, this authority must be used with extreme caution and discretion. While the authority is there, the official must rarely use it, because experience has demonstrated that called hasty technical fouls on the crowd rarely solves the problem and may, in fact, result in penalizing the wrong team because the official may not have proper knowledge as to which team’s supporters were responsible for the unsporting act.”

The ruling clearly explains why the officials were incorrect in assessing the technical foul to Perkiomen Valley, and in turn, costing the Vikings the game. First off, the officials did not take the time to properly analyze the situation before making the call. While it was clear Spring-Ford’s coach called a timeout before the ball was in-bounded, by the time the timeout was signaled to the scorer’s table, Spring-Ford’s shot had already gone off the front rim. Everyone in the gym thought the game was over, which sparked PV’s student section to storm the court.

In this instance after the court was cleared, Spring-Ford should have been granted the timeout with the opportunity to inbound the ball with 1.1 seconds left with a chance to win the game. Instead, the officials rushed a decision based on improper steps to understand the situation and exact rules in the rule book. The officials also provided inaccurate information to the Perkiomen Valley bench, explaining that a technical foul “must” be called when in fact, the rule book says the exact opposite.

The PIAA and PAC-10 have yet to release a statement to justify the officials’ ruling. It’s safe to say regardless if a statement is ever released or not that Perkiomen Valley was hosed out of a championship they won in regulation. Technically, Spring-Ford won the PAC-10 Championship. Logistically, Perkiomen Valley did. Anyone that was in the gym for the final moments knows PV won too, and they also know that the officials ruined what was one of the best high school basketball games the PAC-10 has seen in recent memory by deciding the game over the players.

Perkiomen Valley did not let that moment define their season. They regrouped and upset Cheltenham in the first round of districts with the odds stacked against them yet again. While they then suffered two straight heartbreaking losses to Ridley and Pennridge to end their season just short of the state playoffs, the Vikings held their heads high after finishing of the most successful seasons in program history. They established a precedent for PV Boys basketball to beat district playoff teams, and teams at the top of the PAC-10. On top of that, they can walk away from their season knowing they were the 2016 PAC-10 Champions.