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Loyd Star baseball championship revoked

The Loyd Star Hornets’ 2017 state championship in baseball has been revoked due to the participation of ineligible players.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association pulled the title and demanded the return of the championship trophy after recent hearings in which it determined a number of Loyd Star players failed to meet residency requirements for attending the school. The six players — three baseball and three other sports — were ineligible during the 2016-17 seasons of baseball, girls fast-pitch softball and boys basketball, as well as the current football season.

Additional penalties imposed on the school include the forfeiture of gate fees from post-season games in which the ineligible players participated, a fine of $250 per sport and the school’s placement on disciplinary probation for one calendar year.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation, particularly when a student-athlete has been at one school since he was 5 years old and now, in his senior year, he’s ruled ineligible and has to transfer to another school,” said Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers.

Myers said MHSAA contacted Loyd Star to request verification of the players’ residencies after receiving an anonymous letter. He declined to comment on the source of, or reasons for, the tip-off.

Loyd Star administration was required by MHSAA to investigate the validity of the letter’s claims and found the six students to be in violation of state residency requirements, Myers said.

Mississippi Department of Education Code 6600, which deals with student residency verification, states the definition of residence for school attendance purposes require that “the student physically resides full time, weekdays/nights and weekends, at a place of abode located with the limits of the school district.”

The code has been in effect for 25 years.

Myers said a combination of residency factors made the six student-athletes ineligible. Some families appeared to use the addresses of secondary properties. One family owned a significant amount of land that extended into Lincoln County, but the home was actually just inside Copiah County.

“With the breakdown in families today, it’s hard to police these things,” Myers said. “Some children live here one moment, then next week, next month, they relocate. Dysfunctional family situations create hardships for these kids.”

Myers said MHSAA would require the return of the baseball team’s championship trophy. The 2017 Mississippi 2A baseball championship will remain vacant. The championship rings were ordered and purchased by the students.

“They can proudly wear them for the rest of their lives, and they will,” Myers said. “The championship was stripped because of ineligible players — this is not a recruitment scenario. These guys have been at Loyd Star for a long time.”

Loyd Star’s disciplinary probation will not bar any current teams from participating in postseason play. The Hornets football team has already secured a spot in the playoffs next week.

Myers said any further infractions at Loyd Star would enhance the probation from disciplinary to restrictive, a more severe form of punishment that would bring additional penalties.

Loyd Star Principal Robin Case said it is unclear how many postseason games the six ineligible athletes played in. The school is waiting for MHSAA to review the situation and arrive at a dollar amount for the forthcoming repayment of the gate proceeds.

The Loyd Star baseball team hosted eight post-season games and traveled to four off-site games during their playoff run earlier this year. The fast-pitch softball team played in four off-site postseason games in late April. The 2016-17 boys basketball team did not play in the postseason.

One of the ineligible baseball players was Dawson Zumbro, now a senior at Brookhaven Academy. His mother, Lacey Zumbro, said her son was given the option of finishing the school year at Loyd Star while being barred from participating in athletics.

“Dawson’s heart is in sports,” she said, explaining the family’s decision to enroll at BA. “He’s a senior, and this is his last year to walk out on a field.”

Zumbro claimed she provided a copy of her driver’s license and a “sewage bill” as proof of residency in the Loyd Star school zone at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. She said her son was given the option of transferring to Brookhaven High School. She declined to give her home address.

Two more ineligible baseball players — Tucker and Tanner Watts — have also left Loyd Star and enrolled at BA. Their father, Jason Watts, said his family received the same offer of finishing out the school year at Loyd Star while being barred from playing sports.

“Tucker has some Division 1 colleges looking at him, so if he can’t play baseball, that could cost him thousands of dollars,” he said.

Watts claimed his sons had attended Loyd Star since kindergarten. He said he lives on New Sight Road, but owns 80 acres in the Loyd Star school zone and used the address from that land to send his children to Loyd Star.

“(The school) signed off on it for nine years,” he said.

According the high school sports website Maxpreps, Dawson Zumbro appeared in 33 games for the Hornets’ last season, compiling a batting average of .225 and scoring 12 runs, nine hits and eight runs batted in.

Tucker Watts appeared in 37 games, compiling a batting average of .480 and scoring 21 runs, 48 hits and 45 runs batted in. His brother, Tanner, threw 595 pitches over the course of the season.