Judge considers hold on sports participation rule

mhsaa logo, no bkgdBy Patsy R. Brumfield

Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – Sixteen Tupelo and Starkville teenage soccer players likely will learn today if they can participate in both their high school teams and independent club play.

The players, and their parents or guardians, asked U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock on Thursday to put a temporary halt to a new rule that bans some of them from playing both, while allowing others to do so.

They’ve sued the Mississippi High School Activities Association Inc., a nonprofit which governs athletic and academic competitions, and Tupelo Public School District, which has enforced what’s called “The 50% Rule.”

Aycock will host a conference call today to complete her questions to Mark Halbert of Tupelo, who represents the plaintiffs, and the defense attorneys who argued issues in Aberdeen.

Her last questions to them before a recess gave weight to her concerns about why MHSAA passed the rule and if it deprives the soccer players of their constitutional right to equal protection under the law – that is, that they will not be treated differently from others in an arbitrary manner.

MHSAA maintained an exception to the rule from 2006 until this fall, which allowed high school soccer players to be on their school teams while they also were part of club teams, which generally offer more skilled play.

“I’m having a time and trouble understanding the rationale for removal of the exception,” Aycock told MHSAA’s attorney, Jeff Trotter.

He and Don Hinton, association executive director, insist that revocation of the exception was to put soccer on the same basis as all other high school sports.

The rule, which went back into effect this fall, requires that during the school’s “sports seasons” – which MHSAA maintains is the entire school year – independent club members can make up no more than 50 percent of the starting number of players in that sports. For a 10-player soccer team, that would be five club players.

Deanna Alford’s son, Ben, was one player cut from the THS team when Faucett was forced to eliminate club members in the fall. She said he wants to play for his high school but the rule forces him out while allowing others to play for both teams.

As the hearing drew to a close, Aycock questioned MHSAA about how it made its rules changes.

Hinton told her that the 2006 exception came from an executive decision by then-director Enis Proctor and his executive committee, outside the usual process for changes.

patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com