FORT DODGE, Iowa — Nine weeks ago, Pleasant Valley's girls track and field team hugged, cried and hoisted its first state championship trophy in 23 years.
Now, its title has been taken away.
The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union's Board of Directors voted unanimously Friday morning to strip the Spartans of their Class 4A state championship and state-qualifying victories after having an ineligible athlete participate.
Middle distance standout Kaley Ciluffo competed in three different events against college track athletes in sanctioned invitationals by a college institution from December 2013 to April 2014.
She also participated in a meet in early June against professional athletes in New Jersey.
According to PV officials, they were unaware of Ciluffo's involvement in these competitions until June 23-24.
"We're profoundly disappointed, and we don't agree with it," PV superintendent Dr. Jim Spelhaug said of the board's decision. "The board basically made the decision while admitting that Pleasant Valley coaches and administrators were no way responsible for or had any knowledge of the actions of this family and this student."
Ciluffo, who will be a senior this fall, was in violation of the PV Student Handbook and Iowa Code 36.15(2) that states "a student may not participate with or against high school graduates if the graduates represent a collegiate institution or if the event is sanctioned or sponsored by a collegiate institution."
In regards to ineligible player competition, the IGHSAU rule states: "The penalties may include, but are not limited to, the following: forfeiture of contests or events or both, involving any ineligible student; adjustment or relinquishment of conference, district tournament standings; and return of team awards or individual awards or both."
In a release issued by the IGHSAU, it didn't mention Ciluffo by name, but said the "ineligible athlete was a part of 38 team points at the (state meet)."
"The Board of Directors ruling in this situation is consistent with the scholarship rules in the Iowa Administrative Code," IGHSAU executive director Mike Dick said in a statement. "This is an unfortunate situation for all parties involved. However, the mission of our organization and its board of directors is to be fair and equitable to all of the girls that participate in IGHSAU activities. We are confident we did that today."
Michelle White, Ciluffo's mother, said the family tried to reach an agreement with the IGHSAU where the consequences would pertain to just her daughter, not impact the whole team.
"The state would not work with us," White said.
Ciluffo, who won't be eligible to compete for the 2015 track and field campaign, ran four events at the state track meet in May. She won the 800, ran legs on the victorious distance medley (which established an Iowa all-time best) and 1,600 relays and took second in the 1,500.
With her contributions, PV compiled 82.5 points — nine more than runner-up Urbandale. But with her points and placings vacated, the Spartans will have 44.5 and tumble to seventh place.
Urbandale will be declared the state champion.
Activities director D'Anne Kroemer said PV is required to return the state championship trophy, coaches plaques and awards that were won by the ineligible athlete.
Regional and state meet results will be revised and posted on the IGHSAU website next week, Dick said.
Kroemer said it hasn't been determined if PV's Mississippi Athletic Conference title would be revoked.
Spelhaug and Kroemer attended a closed session meeting with the board at a hotel in Fort Dodge, site of this week's state softball tournament.
After Spelhaug and Kroemer presented their case, the board deliberated for an hour before reaching its decision.
Kroemer is on the board, but did not vote on the matter.
"By making this decision, the board has set a standard coaches, administrators and districts really have to know the unknowable," Spelhaug said. "We think that is an unfair standard."
PV became aware of a potential violation June 23.
Kroemer said co-coach Kenny Wheeler was talking with colleagues about track and field before someone suggested he look at online blogs that had documented results of Ciluffo competing on three occasions.
Last December, Ciluffo ran at the Illinois Wesleyan University First Chance indoor meet and won the 600-meter run.
Participating for Juventus Track Club, based in Philadelphia, Pa., Ciluffo beat individuals in her heat associated with Washington-St. Louis, Truman State, Millikin and Judson.
Then on the weekend of Feb. 8, Ciluffo, again representing Juventus, ran the women's mile in the Keck Invitational held at Illinois Wesleyan University. She won the race, but ran against athletes from Loras, Illinois State, Washington-St. Louis and Monmouth College.
In early April, a weekend where PV didn't have a competition, she ran under the name of Kaley White, her mother's last name, in the Sam Howell Invitational at Princeton University in New Jersey and finished seventh in the 800.
According to PV high school principal Mike Zimmer, Ciluffo's name in the school data base is Kaley White-Ciluffo. The meet chose to insert her name that way in the results.
Ciluffo competed in the United States Junior Track and Field Championships in Des Moines last summer, an event that had college participants.
"Having run against college athletes there, we didn't know that was an issue going into the indoor season," White remarked.
After Wheeler viewed the results of those three meets, he contacted Kroemer and forwarded her the results.
Once Kroemer conducted her investigation, she made Spelhaug and Dick aware that PV had committed a potential violation. Kroemer also contacted Ciluffo's family to set up a meeting to discuss the matter. That took place June 24.
Kroemer said the family was aware of the local and state rules.
"The expectations are generally outlined in our code of conduct," Spelhaug said. "There is no question at all that this person, this family knew and was informed about eligibility requirements."
Earlier this summer, Ciluffo ran in Seattle, Wash., at the Brooks PR Invitational. She set an Iowa all-time best in the 800 in 2 minutes, 7.24 seconds. That time will not be recognized now.
Ciluffo claimed the Drake Relays title in the 800 and in the 1,600 relay. Drake officials will determine if any action will be taken in the near future. If they choose to take away her 800 title, it will go to Linn-Mar's Stephanie Jenks.
Jenks, ineligible to compete in cross country because she knowingly faced collegiate athletes last fall but remains eligible for track, also finished runner-up to Ciluffo at the state meet. Now, she'll have an 800 championship to go along with titles in the 1,500 and 3,000.
"I feel terrible for Pleasant Valley,” Jenks said via e-mail Friday afternoon. “They have such a great program and they work extremely hard.
“As for being named the 800-meter state champion, I would have rather earned it than been given it by default."
It is believed to be the first time a school has been stripped of its state title in Iowa girls athletics. The 1956 Ames boys track and field team lost its state title because it had a 20-year-old on its roster.
Kroemer informed co-coach Jane Wheeler of the board's decision Friday morning.
"She was clearly disappointed about the decision," Kroemer said. "It goes to her faith. She knows this is a lesson that is going to be tough for our team and community to learn, understand and move forward from.
"She will stand by our program, she will work just as hard to ensure our students have a great experience."
Spelhaug supported the Wheelers.
"The Wheelers are, have been and will remain excellent examples for our young ladies," he said.
At its August school board meeting, PV will discuss, as a district, what options might exist in appealing the board's decision.
Dick said the IGHSAU would not have any further comment on the ruling.