CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Every day this week, Martinsburg High School players went to practice to prepare for their fifth Class AAA championship game in a decade. Right now, they're not sure who they're playing or when.
Competing court decisions over the eligibility of four South Charleston players involved in a Nov. 19 fight prompted the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission on Wednesday to postpone the championship pending a resolution. Championship games will be played Friday night for Class AA and Saturday night for Class A.
"It's frustrating obviously," Martinsburg coach Dave Walker said Wednesday. "We're going to stay positive and try to stay focused and prepared. The problem is, we're not sure who we need to prepare for at this point."
The confusion comes from rulings issued Tuesday in circuit courts in Ohio and Kanawha counties.
Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled the Class AAA game couldn't be played until the players' eligibility question was resolved in Kanawha County Circuit Court. Brooke County school officials sought the ruling after Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster ruled the four players could participate in Saturday's championship, setting the stage for possible further appeals.
"This is a very unfortunate and unique situation," said SSAC Executive Director Gary Ray said. "Our hope is to settle the Class AAA football championship on the field of competition."
Ray said the SSAC's attorney has been directed "to do all that he can to expedite a fair and final resolution of this matter.
The next legal option is the state Supreme Court, which had not received an appeal petition by Wednesday afternoon, spokeswoman April Harless said.
The eligibility question stemmed from a midfield brawl that occurred in the final seconds of South Charleston's quarterfinal win over Hurricane at Charleston's Laidley Field. South Charleston players Tyler Harris, Pierria Henry, Emerson Gagnon and Trevand Reese played in last weekend's 29-28 semifinal win over Brooke after winning a court order allowing them to play.
The SSAC and Brooke County school officials contend the four shouldn't have been allowed to play, and the two-time defending Class AAA champion should be forced to forfeit. That would allow Brooke - which lost to South Charleston in last year's finals - to play Martinsburg (13-0) in the championship game.
"The last two days we've practiced for South Charleston because that's who we thought we were going to play," Walker said. "Nobody's playing Saturday afternoon. Right now we're just waiting to see what happens."
For now, Martinsburg will work on its own fundamentals just like it would during an open week in the schedule.
As far as the delay's effect on his team's mental state of mind, "I guess it could do whatever you let it do to you," Walker said.
"We're going to stay focused and just go back and look at things we need to work on. We're not going to let it pull us down."
Martinsburg is accustomed to playing for championships. The Bulldogs advanced to the title game four times in a six-year span, the last coming in 2006. They've gone home as runners-up every time.
Martinsburg Principal Regina Phillips has sensed a chomping-at-the-bit attitude during her regular talks with players in the hallways and during lunch hour in the 1,730-student school's cafeteria.
"I think they know it's just a temporary measure and that in spite of the outcome (in court), we will be in the final game, and we will win," Phillips said. "My kids are confident."
South Charleston coach John Messinger didn't immediately return a phone call Wednesday.
Since the current Super Six format began in 1979, every championship game has been played as scheduled, said Doug Huff, a retired Wheeling sports writer and high school sports historian.
In 1963, Buckhannon-Upshur was awarded the Class AAA championship because two other teams were tied for second place in the ratings system and there was no tiebreaker provision, Huff said.
According to the SSAC's website, one title game was called off due to bad weather. Poca and Vinson were declared co-champions of Class B in 1950.
Ray called the current legal tangle a "sad" situation.
"This is not something we'd like to see. It's a game. It's about opportunity, but at the same time it's got to be about teaching as well," he said. "Part of teaching lessons is about consequences for inappropriate behavior."