AAA investigates HBHS football program after reports of ineligible player

Violation of AAA rules leads to three-game forfeiture for HBHS


Photo by Addison Whitney

Junior running back Jay Burns rushed for 317 yards against the Springdale Bulldogs Oct. 5 in a conference match-up. The Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 43-42.

The 2018 football season ended Nov. 2 in controversy when the Wildcats were forced to forfeit three conference games because of a violation of Arkansas Athletic Association (AAA) policy regarding an ineligible player.

”It is my job to make sure we follow all AAA rules and regulations,” head football coach Chris Wood said. “I failed at protecting our players, parents, school, and district by having a AAA violation.”

Junior Jay Burns was deemed ineligible prior to the Nov. 2 conference match-up against Fayetteville.  

The issue was first addressed in an email to Lance Taylor, the executive director of AAA, from Jay Dostal, the principal of Fayetteville High School and signed by the principals at Van Buren High School and Rogers High School on Nov. 1.

Within the email, Dostal addresses the concern of Burns and his current home residence and its violation of Rule 1. DOMICILE. p. 34-35 AAA handbook stating that “a student’s eligibility for interscholastic athletics shall be in the public school district of the parents domicile.”

Dostal stated in his letter that “Mrs. Williams revealed that her son, Har-Ber High School student, Jadarrien Kenard Burns, is living with a cousin in Springdale, Arkansas,” which violated the rule previously mentioned.

Once a violation was confirmed by an internal investigation by Dr. Jim Rollins, superintendent of Springdale Public Schools, Coach Wood self-reported the violation. Har-Ber was handed a loss in a Sept. 14 non-conference game at Pine Bluff along with two conference games, Oct. 19 against Van Buren and Oct. 26 against Rogers.  

The letter also claimed violation against parental custody addressed by Rule 3. ELIGIBILITY IN OTHER SITUATIONS D. Parental Custody Note 2, which comments that “A student whose parents are divorced or legally separated meets the domicile requirement in the district in which the parent having primary legal custody resides.”

“While this entire ordeal has been gut-wrenching and could potentially have a negative impact on student-athletes and families who are not at fault, we would be doing our students a disservice if we, as adults and leaders, did not model character and integrity ourselves and choose not to submit this report,” Dostal included.

That same day Lance Taylor sent an email to Dr. Jim Rollins, Superintendent of  Springdale Schools, as a “[notification] that Harber High School is under investigation.” The letter addressed that the complaint had been filed by the administration of Fayetteville, Van Buren, and Rogers, the reports and complaints were included.

Rollins responded immediately to the accusations claiming that “Springdale School District has completed an internal investigation… the investigation revealed that an ineligible student athlete played in three football games won by Har-Ber.”

Rollins later stated that Har-Ber High School football team will “forfeit those three games.” The letter also held the assurance that “the Springdale School District and Springdale Athletic Department will take measures to ensure that type of violation does not occur in the future.”

The rules and regulations of the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) also addresses in Article 3, Rule 3. ELIGIBILITY IN OTHER SITUATIONS. I. Providing Incorrect Domicile Information that “of false domicile information is provided to the school, the school may not be required to forfeit games.”

This rule raises the question as to why HBHS was required to forfeit in this situation. When asked to respond to questions about the forfeiture of the football games, athletic director Wayne Stehlik declined to answer.

“I will respectfully decline,” he said.

Burns said that he did not received any harsh treatment from the coaches or any other staff members, but he continues to be denied eligibility to play football or to participate in any other sport.

“I should be allowed to play,” Burns said. Burns competed with Fayetteville during the 2017 season as a sophomore. At cornerback, he had 39 tackles, two sacks and one interception, where the Bulldogs finished 8-5 overall and 5-2 in the conference.

According to Burns, he was “not aware” that a complaint had been made to the Har-Ber administration about a player being ineligible.  

“I was pissed about it,” Burns said.

In a interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Coach Wood stated, “Our administration did a fantastic job investigating that [complaint about an ineligible player] and going through all the details of of it.”

Coach Wood continued to say, “It was confirmed that we had played an ineligible player, and we self-reported it to the AAA and forfeited the three games.”

“Bottom line is we had violation and no need to try and point fingers at others,” Wood said. “It is my job to make sure we follow the rules and regulations of the Arkansas Activities Association. This was the correct course of action.”  

Taylor sent a final response, thanking Rollins for his cooperation and placing the HBHS football team “on warning for 365 days.”

Although Coach Wood did what he says was best, the decision left Burns with bitterness. Burns acknowledged that his team did not go to the playoffs this season because of the violation.  

“It was rough when we heard about it right before we went to the Fayetteville game,” Burns said.

As a junior at HBHS, he had 13 total tackles and was moved to offense after HBHS players suffered injuries. In seven games played for the Wildcats, Burns had 867 yards rushing and 19 yards in receptions.

The Wildcats lost to Fayetteville 42-14 in the last conference game of the 2018 season with Burns not on the field. Due to the forfeiture, HBHS did not compete in the playoffs, the first time since 2006. The Wildcats finished 4-6 overall and 2-5 in the conference.

“We have moved on to the 2019 season,” Coach Wood said, “and the bright future of Har-Ber football.”