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Former Sunnyside grid coach copes with tragic season

EVERETT - Prosser High School's run to the State 2A football championship game tomorrow is hard earned, but there is a chink in the mighty Mustang resume.

What's missing was a much anticipated quarterfinal re-match between top-ranked Prosser and third-ranked Archbishop Murphy of Everett.

Both were undefeated, and Murphy was looking for revenge on its home turf after losing at Prosser in last year's State playoff quarterfinals.

"That would have been a fun little rematch," says Archbishop Murphy Coach Rick Stubrud, who coached Sunnyside High School football during the 1970s. "We were looking forward to another shot at them."

Stubrud speaks in terms of "what if" because two weeks ago the Archbishop Murphy team was stripped of eight of its regular season wins and a chance to advance in the State playoffs.

Stubrud describes the school's abrupt, season-ending run-in with district and WIAA officials as the second bookend of a campaign that started tragically with the death of longtime Archbishop Murphy Coach Terry Ennis just two games into the 2007 season.

Stubrud is Ennis's brother-in-law and coached the team through the remainder of the season.

Speaking by phone from his home near Everett, Stubrud explained that an Archbishop Murphy player's medical exam expired just days before Ennis died.

The oversight wasn't discovered until the school's new athletic director, who replaced the late Ennis, reviewed school records.

When Archbishop Murphy alerted league and district authorities about the situation, the verdict was to end the school's season immediately and make them forfeit games in which the player had participated.

The decision came down on a Thursday night, just two days before Archbishop Murphy was to play Mark Morris in a regional playoff game. A victory would have set up the Prosser re-match.

"We were hoping that with Terry's death maybe they would give us a little break," Stubrud said. "We felt we had a compelling argument. It was a pretty drastic decision by our league."

The impact on his players was immediate.

"To have those kids lose Terry like that, then getting the kids through that season was unbelievable," Stubrud said. "They were dealt a second blow by having that opportunity (the State playoffs) taken away. They're working with his legacy and memory and trying to do what he wanted them to do. That's where the emotion comes from."

Stubrud still doesn't understand the league and district decision. Nor is it comprehensible to him why the WIAA upheld those Draconian measures on appeal.

Bill Gant's an official with the WIAA, and he doesn't get it either.

A longtime Sunnyside resident and school administrator-he was among those who hired Stubrud to come work in the district-Gant recused himself from the WIAA decision because of his friendship with Stubrud.

Gant also sat out the decision-making process because Prosser Athletic Director Casey Gant is his son. "I figured they would meet up again in the playoffs."

Gant has been with the WIAA for 15 years. His response to upholding the league and district penalties?

"In all honesty I was surprised," he said. "Let me put it this way. Last year when Selah overscheduled their varsity (volleyball) matches the WIAA overturned penalties against them. They went on to win the State title."

Archbishop Murphy received no such mercy from the WIAA.

Gant wonders if there is more to the story.

Stubrud says the only thing he can think of is perhaps there was jealousy by league or district officials because of Archbishop Murphy's perennial run to the State football tourney.

Whatever the reasons or rationale, the Archbishop players are doing more than mourn a dead coach and lost season.

They are taking action.

This Monday, Dec. 3, Archbishop football players will meet with WIAA officials in hopes that what happened to them doesn't happen again.

"We'd like to get a rule change," Stubrud says. "If we can get that, then I think that will count for something."

Stubrud has coached high school football for nearly 25 years, 10 of them at Sunnyside. His first three years were under Grizzly Head Coach George Potter before taking the reigns from 1976 to 1982.

"We had some pretty good teams. Those were the best 10 years of my professional life," Stubrud recalled of a stretch that saw Sunnyside advance as far as the State semifinals with players such as current St. Louis Rams head coach Scott Linehan.

If Sunnyside was the brightest arc in his coaching career, the football shuffle with the WIAA must surely be his darkest.

Right?

Think again.

Archbishop Murphy student athletes have responded, yes, with sorrow, but with more. They are looking ahead, and thinking back to what their old ball coach would do in this situation.

"Life is extremely difficult. They know it better than any other group in the state right now," Stubrud said of his players. "They also know the most important thing is what they do when these things hit can make them better men."

Sounds like Stubrud is better for seeing these youths through compounded tragedy.

"I'm real proud of the kids for taking the high road," he says. "They've re-affirmed my belief in kids."

These "kids," football players turned advocates, want to make sure what happened to them doesn't happen to anyone else in the future.

They're lobbying for an end to 48-hour notices that your season is over because of a paperwork snafu in the wake of your coach's death.

They're lobbying to be heard and help come up with solutions to help other high school teams. Teams like the Mustangs, bound for tomorrow's State title tilt.

"Could you imagine what would happen if something like this happened with Prosser's football team?" Stubrud reflected. "It would devastate the town."

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