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

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

"My parents love the kids (they take in) like they love me and my brothers," she said. "And of the 16 kids, 12 have graduated from high school."

Unfortunately, the UHSAA's rules aren't equipped to deal with a situation in which aunts and uncles might raise relatives without actual legal guardianship. The rules require a court order exchanging guardianship because of cases in the past where players have lived with friends, coaches and even boosters to skirt the rules.

But Salote Teisina said her parents were just trying to help a young man with very little direction and support. Tuifua had never played football, and only did so at Lai Teisina's urging so he could be a part of something that would help him in school and life.

"He didn't really want to play at first," said Lai Teisina. "But then he wanted to try something new. It has helped him a lot. It kept us busy, and he liked it."

At one point, Tuifua quit the team.

Whittingham and the other coaches went to him and asked him to come back because they knew he had a better chance to graduate if he was part of the team than if he was not. Their kindness led to him playing sparingly at the end of games Timpview was winning handily.

"Football is so important to them that it was easy to keep them involved in school," said Whittingham.

Even after the state declared him ineligible and forbid him from playing, Timpview coaches encouraged him to stay involved. He was on the sidelines of the team's games, even if he could never play. Salote Teisina believes the support of the team and coaches have helped Tuifua, who has made up massive credits and should graduate next spring.

While the UHSAA will discuss changes to the rule about teams that play ineligible players, little has been discussed about how ineligible players are discovered and how to avoid the problem in the first place.

Whittingham said that because Tuifua had never played sports at another high school, he's not sure that his case ever would have been caught if McKee hadn't audited their roster. He's certain Timpview won't have problems as McKee's made changes to their internal system.

But as for the rest of the state, he's not sure.

"Every school has out-of-boundary kids," he said.

Salote Teisina said she's just grateful that the team embraced both boys and never blamed them. She's grateful that her brother was able to play in the playoffs and that he has several offers to attend college on a football scholarship.

And she's grateful the T-birds won the 4A state title with her brother in lineup. After all he'd been through, she said, he deserved the joy that came with that win.

While some may disagree with using athletics to help young people achieve success in academics, the Teisinas know first-hand how sports can be what saves some people. It can be, as Lai said, the door to greater opportunities.

"You know, as I reflect on the season and about my brothers, I have come to learn a great thing from them and it's the importance of being humble and grateful," said Salote Teisina. "We have so much to be thankful for this season, and I'm thankful for parents that cared enough about their children to leave Hawaii to come to Utah. ... She gave up being with her husband every day so that we could find a future for ourselves and I'm so happy that we (my parents' biological kids) are doing everything that we can to make them happy."

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