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Top-ranked Bennett football forfeits wins due to ‘clerical error,’ coach Steve McDuffie suspended 1 game

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Reigning AA football champion Bennett, the highest-ranked local team in the state’s largest classification, is now winless this season after Section VI ruled the Tigers used an ineligible player in its first six games.

Bennett coach Steve McDuffie also has been suspended for Friday night’s game against Niagara Falls at All-High Stadium, due to NYSPHSAA rules stemming from a procedural error regarding transfer paperwork for a freshman player on the Bennett varsity team who played JV for Sweet Home as a middle school student last fall, said Michael House, assistant superintendent of athletics for Buffalo Public Schools.

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“It’s very disappointing to learn that an entire team will be punished for a clerical error,” House said. “There was nothing unethical about this. This is a bonafide student at Louis J. Bennett High School who lives in the City of Buffalo. Our coach, Steve McDuffie, is doing a great job. It’s very unfair that children are being punished in this way. It should be all about the students in the classroom and on the field. Not about procedural or clerical errors.”

A message left with Section VI football chairman Jay Sirianni was not immediately returned.

Bennett was 4-2 this season, leading its division at 2-0 following wins on the road against now unbeaten Lancaster and Orchard Park, and the Tigers ranked No. 10 in Class AA by the New York State Sportswriters Association poll.

Section VI football statistics leaderboard

With Bennett forfeiting its four wins, Lancaster, ranked 17th in the state, is 6-0 and 3-0 in Class AA, while No. 20 Orchard Park is 6-0 and 2-0 in division games. Orchard Park hosts Lancaster Friday night, and the winner will clinch the top seed for the Section VI playoffs.

With former St. Joe’s coach Bob O’Connor taking McDuffie’s place on Friday night, Bennett can still make the playoffs and be seeded as high as third in the five-team division with wins against Niagara Falls and at Hutch-Tech next week.

This is the latest in a series of misfortunes for the Bennett football program, House noted. BPS pushed back against Section VI’s attempt to put city schools in their own football league separate from the area’s other top AA programs in 2020. Bennett was eliminated from the section playoffs during the 2021 spring season while team activities were paused due to coronavirus infections. And last fall, Bennett was forced to play two playoff games in a five-day span after a state judge ruled that a virus outbreak would not force McQuaid Jesuit to forfeit a Far West Regional matchup with Bennett.

“There is a pattern of these instances coming up with Bennett,” House said. “It’s not fair. And we want to know why.”

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House speculated that Bennett’s recent success on the field might be the reason.

“John Wooden would say that the more success you have, the more criticism you receive,” House said.

House also raised questions about fairness in requiring BPS to meet the same paperwork filing standards as much smaller suburban school districts.

“Here in Buffalo, we have 18 high schools and hundreds of middle school students coming into our school every year,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to manage four to six students transferring into a suburban school each year.”

House said Section VI informed him of the insufficient disclosure on Tuesday, and that his office submitted the required paperwork soon after. BPS is looking into filing an appeal.

“Essentially the section expects districts to investigate and ask parents if students played ball at another school prior to coming in as a freshman,” House said. “They expected us to have that prior knowledge. And the question should be raised whether that is fair and equitable for all schools in New York.”

News of Bennett’s forfeited wins was first reported by The Buffalo News on Friday.

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Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.

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