Thesmallest-brained crustaceans are water fleas. The smallest-brained parasitesare flatworms. And the smallest-brained mammals are the men and women who runhigh school athletics in the state of Washington.

Listen to whatthey did, and tell me it doesn't make you want to chew through concrete.

Archbishop MurphyHigh in Everett opened the football season this fall with a dying coach, thelegendary Terry Ennis, whose 287 wins are second most in state history. Theschool had begged him to come out of retirement seven years ago to kick-startthe Wildcats' new football program and be the athletic director.

Ennis then didwhat he'd been doing for 29 years. He turned Archbishop Murphy's kids intoyoung men who wear ties and look you in the eye and win football games. He wontwo state titles and went 73-12 in his first seven seasons with theWildcats.

But before thisone, Ennis told his players that his prostate cancer had a hold of him, bad. Hewas going to keep working, though, because Terry Ennis would rather have worn atutu than quit on his team. Coaching sometimes from a chair, he won the firsttwo games, then died three days later.

"We sat inthat locker room and cried for hours," says senior co-captain Ryan Bourke,"and we all talked about how we wanted to win state for him."

And so they wontheir next seven games--under Ennis's brother-in-law Rick Stubrud--then won adistrict qualifier and got ready for state.

But then fell atiny little raindrop that turned into the Johnstown Flood.

Two weeks ago, newco-athletic director Patti Means was looking over players' physical-examcertificates--sifting through all of Ennis's cartons and confusion as she tookover some of his old duties--and discovered one player whose physical had notbeen updated.

Prettyunderstandable mistake. The guy in charge of those kinds of things died fourdays after the kid's physical expired. Plus, this kid's home life was goingthrough a blender. His mom had moved to Yakima, his dad was gone, and he wasliving with friends. Stuff tends to slip through cracks that big.

Means told the kidto go get a physical that day, which he did, and passed. Then she notified theconference of the clerical error.

"We thoughtthey'd look at these extraordinary circumstances and use discretion,"Stubrud recalls. "I mean, it's not like we were trying to fudge the rules.This happened the very week Terry died."

But instead, theconference--without allowing Archbishop Murphy a formal defense--made theWildcats forfeit every game they'd played after the physical expired and kickedthe team out of the playoffs. Worse, that ruling was rubber-stamped by theWashington Interscholastic Athletic Association.

So much fordiscretion.

Again, the playerssat in that locker room and cried. And why wouldn't they? In one season they'dwatched their coach die and then their dreams.

If thoseone-celled organisms on those boards had any sense of right and wrong, theywould've given Archbishop Murphy a punishment that fit the crime. Maybe suspendthe kid from the playoffs. But throw the Wildcats out of the postseason, overpaperwork? That's like giving a jaywalker the chair.

How could thestate come to such a flatworm-headed decision?

"Well, I'm notsure you know the whole story," said Al Falkner, WIAA executive boardpresident. "The school admitted that in August they notified [the player]that he would become ineligible on Sept. 8 and he should update thephysical. Apparently, in all the things that happen sometimes, that wasforgotten."

In all the thingsthat happen sometimes? You mean, like the kid having his home pulled out fromunder him and his coach dying in the middle of his season? Boy, what kind ofrotten kid would forget something during all that?

Makes me want toralph.

As usual in thesethings, the kids are acting more adult than the adults. Bourke and his fellowseniors have dedicated themselves to getting the rule changed so that otherteams don't have to get the frying pan in the face that they got.

Meanwhile, Bourkekeeps thinking about what Coach Ennis would be saying to them right now."He'd be going, 'Men, it's not about what happened. It's about what you dofrom this point forward that will define you as a man.' "

Ennis was a coolguy. Too bad he never coached the dolts in charge.

TALK BACK If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, sendit to reilly@siletters.com.

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The players sat in the locker room and cried after theboard's decision. And why not? In one season they'd watched their coach die andthen their dreams.

PHOTOPETER READ MILLER ILLUSTRATIONFLICKERLAB (ILLUSTRATION)

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