High school football: Family of ineligible Timpview players speaks out about controversy

Published: Saturday, Nov. 24 2012 8:30 p.m. MST

Lesieli Teisina said the family had many cousins in Utah and they played at various high schools. Each encouraged them to come to their school when they moved to Utah, but they settled on Westlake.

A year later, the renters had left the Teisinas' Provo house in disrepair, and she decided to move back to that house and fix it up with the help of her daughters.

And while her older son, Ben Teisina, and his friend decided to stay at Westlake and graduate, her younger son, Lai Teisina asked if he could go to Timpview High.

A friend, Tevia Tolutau, talked up the T-bird football program and said how much it had helped him in achieving his goals.

"Nobody recruited me," said Lai, an offensive lineman who has several collegiate offers to play football. "I just heard that Timpview had a good program and my dream is to play football, so I wanted to go there."

The problem is that because the house was in Provo High's boundaries, the Teisinas should have filled out a request for a hardship waiver. Students can go anywhere they want for academic purposes, but once they establish athletic eligibility (which they do by simply attending a school), they have to file transfer and hardship requests with the Utah High School Activities Association to be eligible to play sports.

The Teisinas thought the move made him eligible. They weren't aware his out-of-boundary status needed approval.

"I didn't even know I had to fill out any paperwork," said Lesieli Teisina. "I thought all I do is transferring from school to school. When they told me Lai couldn't play because of that, I feel sad."

There is a tryout checklist every student athlete fills out when he or she tries out for any athletic team statewide. On that checklist it asks parents if a student has attended another school. When that's checked, it alerts school officials to ask if transfer paperwork has been filed with the Utah High School Activities Association. She did not check it because she didn't know she needed to do so.

Her daughter said her mother wasn't trying to be dishonest.

"Had we known we had to fill out additional paperwork, it would have been done," said Salote Teisina. "I was on my (LDS) mission when my mom moved, and she barely speaks English."

Lai Teisina started every game in the 2011 season for the T-birds, so when the violation came to light (because another player from Westlake who was denied a transfer to Orem pointed it out), Timpview was punished for playing him with a fine, loss of region title, forfeiting that season of wins and a year of probation.

"I felt bad because I didn't know what was happening," said Lai Teisina. "I didn't know what was going on. I felt like it wasn't fair — that it was my fault. It was hard for me because my whole team suffered."

While Lai was devastated that he'd cost the team those wins and the 2011 region title, Timpview head coach Cary Whittingham said the team didn't blame the boy.

"None of the kids cared a lick," said Whittingham. "They were all pulling for him to be eligible. He missed a bunch of games this year because we didn't know where (his transfer) was at. … He didn't do anything intentionally."

The school's new principal, Todd McKee, wanted to ensure there were no other problems so he checked the roster himself. That's when he found the second ineligible player who'd participated in four games this season — Tuifua.

Tuifua lives with the Teisinas.

Salote Teisina said her parents knew Tuifua, an immigrant from Tonga who'd lived with several relatives before the Teisinas took him in last year. When Lesieli Teisina went home for Christmas last December, she decided to bring Tuifua back to Utah as he was the same age as Lai Teisina. She hoped Lai might be a good influence on Tuifua, who was struggling in school and not on track to graduate.

He calls Lesieli Teisina his aunt, and she feels and acts like she is his family.