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Meisenheimer's integrity is over par

Forest Lake golf coach turned in a player for cheating at section tournament last spring
By: Ray Hacke, Journal Sports Writer
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LAKE OF THE PINES — No matter how many championship banners cover a high school’s gymnasium walls, there’s always room for one more. Forest Lake Christian’s boys golf team earned some of its school gym’s coveted wall space last season, cruising through Central Valley Christian League play with an unbeaten record to capture the league title. Still, the Falcons could have hung an even more prized banner in their gym, and while the wall space that could have been theirs won’t remain empty, the way they lost it left them with an empty feeling. On the golf course, the Falcons placed second at last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Divisional VI tournament – or so they thought. During the team’s post-tournament meal at an In-N-Out Burger, coach Joel Meisenheimer learned that one of his players had cheated on a particular hole, shaving two strokes off his score. Meisenheimer called the Sac-Joaquin Section the next day to report the infraction, and the player – whom the coach asked not to be identified – was disqualified. The player’s score was dropped from FLC’s team total, which included the top five players’ scores, and the higher score carded by the Falcons’ No. 6 player, Jeremy Lanz, was added in. “I thought it was important to do the right thing, to call in and say what happened,” Meisenheimer said. “I was disappointed that one of my guys could claim to be a Christian and put down a score he didn’t get and sign his name to it.” As things turned out, the tournament’s original winning team, Jim Elliot Christian of Lodi, was disqualified for using an ineligible player, meaning the Division VI title would have been Forest Lake’s had all of the Falcons’ scores been on the up-and-up. “If I hadn’t said anything, we would have had it,” Meisenheimer said. Instead, FLC settled for fifth place, and the Division VI crown fell to Turlock Christian. And instead of advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section tournament as a team, the Falcons only sent one individual, then-senior Johnny Umamoto, who placed third at the Division VI tournament with a 76. “We had a team that, I think, could have competed with some of the Division Is,” Meisenheimer said. Still, the coach’s conscience wouldn’t let him accept a championship under false pretenses – and Lanz, for one, is glad he didn’t. “It was real honest of him not to let us cheat,” said Lanz, now a sophomore at Forest Lake. “He did the right thing.” “If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be coaching anymore,” Meisenheimer said. “As much as it hurts, I’ve got to do the right thing. Otherwise I would badly tarnish not only my reputation, but my school’s reputation too.” How it happened In high school golf, players keep their own scores and are expected to police one another to keep things honest. The opponent a player is matched up with records the player’s stroke total for each individual hole on the player’s scorecard. After a round ends, players swap scorecards and sign them, affirming that the scores on the cards are correct. On the hole in question, the golfer Forest Lake’s player was matched up with was not paying close attention, according to Meisenheimer. When the Forest Lake player’s first shot went out of bounds, he didn’t count it and teed up another ball to replay the shot, Meisenheimer said. The player also took another swing that his opponent overlooked. After the hole was completed, the player’s opponent told him he’d shot a 5 when he’d actually shot a 7, and the player never admitted what he actually shot, Meisenheimer said. “His rationale for doing it was that he hoped it would help the team win,” Meisenheimer said. “It was only two strokes, and he didn’t think it would make a difference. “If he’d taken the 7, we still would have taken second place and won it when the other team got disqualified.” Having integrity Aside from being an important part of the game of golf, integrity is an important part of the Christian faith, according to Meisenheimer. Another key aspect of Christianity is representing Christ in a positive manner – 2 Corinthians 5:20 refers to Christians as “Christ’s ambassadors.” Given that the word “Christian” is part of his school’s name, Meisenheimer felt it would reflect poorly on Christ – and Forest Lake – to let his player get away with cheating, even if it cost his team a championship. “Being a Christian and saying you have Christ living in you, your character should say you would not go and do something like that,” the coach said. “You’re human, but you shouldn’t want to be doing it.” Forest Lake’s players were shocked and understandably upset when they learned the consequences of their teammate’s actions. “I felt bad for him, but he shouldn’t have done it,” Lanz said. Meisenheimer said coaches from around the Sac-Joaquin Section expressed their support for his decision when they saw him at the section tournament. “They said I did the proper thing, and it needed to be done,” he said. “That reaffirmed that I did the right thing.” A year later, Meisenheimer is still trying to do right by his faith, his school and his sport. On March 22 he learned that one of his players was ineligible due to a paperwork matter that Meisenheimer admits was partially his fault – and since that player competed in FLC’s first league match, the Falcons forfeited it, even though they’d actually won it by several strokes. The player who cost Forest Lake a Division VI title – which would have been the first in school history – is no longer with the team, having graduated last spring. Meisenheimer hopes he’ll grow from the experience. “In the long run, I hope it’s a good teaching moment,” the coach said. “I hope he’ll learn from it so he’ll never have to face this again. Everything you do has consequences.”