After months of trying a more diplomatic approach, officials at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School are now considering taking legal action to overturn a recent decision by the South Coast athletic conference to remove several Vineyard sports teams from its ranks.
Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Margaret (Peg) Regan appeared before the principals who head the South Coast conference last Thursday to plead her case that the Vineyard be allowed to remain a part of the nine-member athletic league.
Mrs. Regan went to the meeting hoping the principals would consider her request they re-vote whether the Vineyard could remain a member of the conference. At the very least, she was hoping the principals would explain the rationale behind their first vote.
But, as has been the case for the past two months, answers were hard to come by during the tense, hour-long meeting, Mrs. Regan said.
Since being approved as an associate member of the conference in 2005, the Vineyard has formed competitive rivalries with conference opponents, school spirit has soared and teams have gained the opportunity to win regular season conference titles.
The inclusion also has financial implications for student athletes, who have the opportunity to list themselves as conference all-stars and members of league championship teams on their college applications.
The South Coast Conference is led by the principals and the athletic directors of its nine schools: Seekonk, Apponequet, Dighton-Rehoboth Regional, Wareham, Bourne, Joseph Case, Fairhaven, Old Rochester and Greater New Bedford Technical.
On Jan. 11, the athletic directors of the conference unanimously voted to allow the Vineyard to remain in the conference. But when the principals of the conference met later that same day, they voted to terminate the Vineyard's membership, effective at the end of the current school year.
Before the vote was taken, the principals agreed that Mrs. Regan should not participate in the vote, and asked her to leave the room.
The vote baffled many Island officials, who questioned why the principals split with the athletic directors and why Mrs. Regan was not allowed to participate in the vote.
Mrs. Regan said the only new information she learned at last Thursday's meeting was that the initial vote to exclude the Vineyard from the conference was 5-3. One member of the conference - Fairhaven principal Jean Cote - was absent at the time of that vote.
The final vote changed to 6-3 however, after the principals got in touch Mr. Cote to record his vote.
Mrs. Regan said it was evident during the meeting that the already strained relationship between the Vineyard and the other conference schools has turned acrimonious.
"It seemed like all the principals present were in different states of ‘tsk, tsking,' the Vineyard and what we are trying to accomplish," she said. "It kind of felt like being in front of a jury who had already decided you were guilty. It was a very stressful, very strained meeting."
During the meeting, Mrs. Regan argued the principals may have violated conference bylaws because they didn't allow the Vineyard to participate in the vote back in January.
The bylaws state that associate membership carries with it voting rights, which were not afforded to Mrs. Regan. The by-laws require written advance notice of the reasons for any proposed exclusion from the conference.
Mrs. Regan also suggested the conference may have violated the state's open meeting laws when the principals asked her to leave the room.
The principals, however, didn't agree.
"They told me they did not accept that rationale," she said. "It did not seem they were close to changing their stance."
Mrs. Regan said the situation is even more puzzling because a majority of the athletic directors in the conference support keeping the Vineyard in the league. Many of the conference athletic directors have agreed to place the Vineyard on the schedule for next year, meaning that the team will continue to face the same South Coast teams, except they will not be league games.
"At this point it just seems absurd. I think it's just gotten to the point where it seems more political then anything. And it's the students who are suffering," she said.
Mrs. Regan said she is planning to meet with legal counsel for the school committee this week to explore the possibility of legal action against the conference. "It seems they've left us with no alternatives," Mrs. Regan said.