Player age, grade-level issues mar possible perfect season
The Okmulgee Junior Football Association, coordinated by Collis Jones, received notice last week that all teams had been suspended from their current league.
The OJFA, now in its 33rd year of existence, is a member of the Red Dirt Youth Football League.
In a meeting held last week, the board of Red Dirt voted to suspend OJFA for the remainder of the season among allegations of cheating. There are four teams in the OJFA, and each have a 5-0 record this year.
The directors were informed of the decision and shared the following information and the reasons they were suspended on their social media page: “This is the 33rd year of the Okmulgee Junior Football Association. In 29 of the 33 years, we were able to lead a squad to the championship. We take great pride in fundamental, teamwork, and Bulldog pride. Due to our conviction that every child should have the opportunity to succeed, we work with, support, and educate kids from Okmulgee and the neighboring towns. OJF provides for our children while maintaining one of the lowest league prices in the state, and many are sponsored since they are unable to pay, because that is the core of our organization. We enjoy working with children and watching them come together as a group and form enduring relationships.
“As some of you are aware, OJF was accused of cheating on Wednesday night and consequently suspended from the Red Dirt Football League. It’s not like that at all! The details are as follows:
• Four players from the sixth grade were dropped from the team – not due to their age, as the league does, but rather because they were in the seventh grade. Each player is 12 years old, and the league received the necessary information prior to the start of the season. These players weren’t problematic until a rival club started to wonder why we were succeeding. We were informed that those players could not participate in the game without the approval of Okmulgee Public Schools, which they refused to do. We reluctantly withdrew those players the following day after learning that we had to.
• OJFA was suspended for the remainder of the season after a meeting that we were not informed of was held. We were never informed or given a chance to speak up for ourselves. The league declined our offer to suspend the sixth grade and allow the others to play.
The Times reached out to Red Dirt Football League who shared the following explanations: The Red Dirt representative said that they were in contact with OJF Coordinator Collis Jones in the weeks prior to the vote. They were informed in their preseason meeting that a school verification form was added into the rules for any player that was repeating the same grade as the prior year. The parent filled out the first half of the form, and the school the player was attending completed the second portion The rule is listed in red in their current rulebook, because it was just added this year.
Red Dirt told us that they reached out to the group’s coordinators, including Jones, who told them that the school principal wouldn’t sign off on it because the kids wouldn’t be eligible.
The president of Red Dirt offered to call the principal and discuss but was never given the phone number to contact him.
Okmulgee School Superintendent Renee Dove and Board President Rod Wiemer spoke with the Times Wednesday evening and addressed the statement that was made concerning the district ‘not signing off’ for the students to participate.
Wiemer stated the Okmulgee School district could not give approval due to the fact the four students were in the 7th grade – they were not 6th graders, and thus the administration could not lawfully certify the documents.
Red Dirt stated they asked for a roster of the OJF 2nd and 3rd grade squads so they could note which kids were in each grade. They were sent a handwritten roster of 21 players, three of them being 2nd graders, and one 4th grader, which Jones said was out of place.
The representative told us that Red Dirt has always played by grade with an age kicker.
Here are the rules for Eligibility. Section 3.2.1 states that, “Players cannot play down a grade for safety reasons.”
Many involved with the OJF program have alleged to have been excluded from the meeting where Red Dirt coordinators voted to suspend them for the season. However, rule 14.2 states:
Disciplinary actions will be dealt with by the officers and board members except for the towns involved in the dispute. Any action taken will be handled by a majority vote among the board members only.
Red Dirt stated that after further investigation, the organization decided on the suspension and the whole Okmulgee orgnization was removed by majority of the board members. “So, this is the reason, that the whole Okmulgee organization was removed by a majority vote of board members.”
— What is the future for OJFA?
A Facebook post made on the official OJF page stated “The entire league has found this to be incredibly difficult and stressing. All of us, including the administration, coaches, football and cheer parents, athletes, and cheerleaders, are attempting to comprehend and move forward. OJF has coached and inspired thousands of kids, both football and cheer, with many coming back to coach, and bring their kids to participate. Even though this has been a trying time, rest assured that OjF will prevail; we’ll keep inspiring and motivating people while carrying on our winning history. This is only a temporary setback, and we will bounce back stronger than ever!”
The 3rd grade team was scheduled to play against a team from Tulsa this Saturday at Harmon Stadium.
The Okmulgee School Board is set to meet for their regular monthly meeting next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the administration building. There will be a discussion and possible action regarding the establishment of youth football at a nominal or no cost to Okmulgee Public School students as a school activity for FY25.