SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. — Waverly High School baseball coach Michael Goodrich gave his players an 11:30 p.m. curfew Tuesday, the night before they were to play for an American Legion state title.
He made his checks and found all 14 players accounted for and ready for bed.
Two hours later, a knock on the door: Six players were in trouble with Scottsbluff police for allegedly drinking alcohol. Authorities ticketed one of the six on suspicion of bashing a mailbox with a baseball bat.
In the aftermath of those two hours, the team forfeited a chance at the championship and the coach voluntarily resigned from the legion and high school teams.
“I have a lot invested in a lot of really good young men,” Goodrich said Wednesday when reached by The World-Herald. “But being the head coach, I'm responsible for the actions of this team, and I accept that responsibility.”
Goodrich said he was unaware of how the players, all 18 or younger, obtained the alcohol. That's a question police said they were still investigating.
Waverly Superintendent Bill Heimann said Wednesday night that he had not yet spoken with the coach, but he made it clear that Goodrich was not asked to resign.
The superintendent added that he was not aware of anything about the incident that would have prompted school officials to consider taking personnel action against Goodrich.
“I will say he has been an exemplary coach for our school,” Heimann said. “I commend him for making the decision to not allow the players who got into trouble to participate in the championship game.”
Goodrich started the baseball program at Waverly High five years ago. At the same time, he also took over the American Legion baseball team, which plays in a summer league unaffiliated with school districts. Nonetheless, the teams consist of mostly the same players.
Under American Legion policy, all six players would have been suspended for a minimum of five games for misconduct, said Brent Hagel-Pitt, activities director for the legion's youth programs. He was not aware of a prior case of suspension causing a team to withdraw from postseason play.
Because the Waverly team had 14 players at the tournament, the automatic suspensions left it with only eight players, one short of the minimum. As a result, the team was forced to forfeit a chance at the Class B championship, Hagel-Pitt said.
Goodrich said two other players on the original team roster did not make the trip to Scottsbluff. He considered asking those players to come out for the championship but ultimately decided to forfeit.
Options were discussed by Goodrich, his two assistants and some of the team parents who were in Scottsbluff. Not all parents could attend the tournament, which started Saturday, he added.
“There were mixed feelings, but we wanted to honor the American Legion,” he said. “The behavior of our team didn't warrant our playing in the championship game.”
Scottsbluff police were called about 12:45 a.m. Wednesday to a neighborhood near the hotel where the team was staying, Police Capt. Brian Wasson said. A woman said she saw someone strike her mailbox several times with a baseball bat before he and a second male fled on foot.
Officers arrested three 18-year-olds and ticketed three of their teammates — ages 18, 17 and 16 — all on suspicion of being minors in possession of alcohol. They also ticketed one of the 18-year-olds on suspicion of destruction of property.
“We made a mistake and now we have to pay for it, but I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys to spend the summer with,” one of the arrested players posted on Twitter.
Because Waverly advanced to the championship game through the consolation bracket, the team would have been required to win two games. The team forfeited the title to Hickman-Norris.
“I was kind of stun-gunned when I heard the news,'' Hickman-Norris coach Will Raftery said. “It was just really weird.”
Legion officials considered having Hickman-Norris play Elkhorn Mount Michael in the final, though Mount Michael had lost its second game of the double-elimination tournament the previous night.
“Instead of deciding it on the field, I told our kids about it in the hotel lobby,” Raftery said.
Tournament directors tried to make the day special, allowing Hickman-Norris to play an inning against their fathers.
“That was kind of neat, and we still got to have a dogpile,'' Raftery said. “But it was a bizarre day, all the way around.''
Goodrich, a retired teacher, said he coached baseball in varying capacities over nearly two decades at high schools in Lincoln. But until Wednesday, he never had a player get into serious trouble.
He said he was “completely devastated” by the turn of events. And he's not alone.
“There are quite a few innocent people suffering greatly today because of the actions of a few,” he said.
World-Herald staff writers Mike Patterson and Alissa Skelton and Maunette Loeks of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.