Soccer players seek legal halt to new team participation limits

By Patsy R. Brumfield
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Sixteen high school soccer players, who play on independent club teams, seek removal of a state athletic group rule that they claim will prevent their play for their own high school teams.

The players, through their parents or guardians, filed a lawsuit this week in chancery court in Lee County to stop enforcement of the rule established for the 2012-2013 school year by the Mississippi High School Activities Association Inc
A hearing for a temporary restraining order is Tuesday before Chancellor Jacqueline Mask in New Albany.

MHSAA describes itself as a nonprofit organization run by the state’s secondary schools to oversee academic and athletic competitions.

The new rule, the lawsuit claims, limits any one school’s fielded team players to 50 percent of independent teams players. A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, and so under this rule, only five independent team members could go onto the field at a time for their high school team.

Previously, the rule limited players from the same school, who also participate on independent teams, to five “starters” instead of players. High school soccer observers say this rule was unenforceable.

The new rule pertains to all high school athletes, but generally they are not affected because select or independent club play by them does not occur during their high school seasons.

The lawsuit seeks to stop enforcement of the new rule, saying it has caused some of the plaintiffs “to be cut from their high school team because they were selected to participate on an independent soccer team along with more than five of their peers, who like these plaintiffs, also were selected for their high school soccer team.”

The other plaintiffs, it says, participate on an independent club team and may be ineligible also to play for their local high school.

It claims that “a substantial number” of other high school soccer players face the same eligibility issues.

The plaintiffs and their adult representatives filing the lawsuit are Ben Alford and Deanna Alford, Tanner Scoville and Jeff Scoville, Boston Hampton and Eric Hampton, Val Lawson and Gregory Lawson, Arman Borazjani and Abdolsamad Boraqzjani, D’Antae Bush and Daphne Bush, Connor Dunne and James Dunne, Michael Godley and Randall Godley, Caleb Gwaltney and Steve Gwaltney, Luke Josey and Joel Dell Josey, Christian Kingery and Rachel Kingery, Daniel Luck and Rogelio Luck, Ben Mackin and Andew Mackin, Alex Ross and Matt Ross, Michael Sullivan and Barry Sullivan, and Rylan Moore and David Ray Moore.

Represented by Tupelo attorneys Mark Halbert and J. Andrews Hughes, the plaintiffs say their constitutional rights to equal protection are under attack.

They say they want a TRO/preliminary injunction to protect themselves from “irreparable harm.”

They also say they want the new MHSAA rule to be declared unconstitutional.

Defendants with MHSAA are Tupelo Public School District, THS principal Jason Harris and THS athletic director Jon Schoggin.

This morning, Rickey Neaves, MHSAA associate director, said the new rule will not “ruin” high school or independent teams.

He also said he sees “several potential solutions.”

• Read Thursday’s Daily Journal for more details. Sports reporter Brandon Speck contributed to this report.

Click video to hear audio

  • ConwayTwitter

    What was the reasoning behind the rule in the first place?

    • Joshua

      What we originally thought was that some smaller school had complained to the MHSAA executive committee that they were getting the socks beat off them by schools from areas which had club programs and played year round. What many of us on the inside of this issue now think is that the school districts are not wanting to share that sponsor money with leagues. Pure guesswork, I admit, but it’s educated guesswork – believe me.

      • ConwayTwitter

        Interesting. I appreciate the info.

      • guest

        Good points. You can tell a team with club players on it a mile away – the difference is like night and day. You take an area like Jackson with club teams in Clinton, Brandon, Madison – it is possible to field a HS team with all club players in that area.

      • Todd

        Sponsor money? Not sure I understand that one. Are you saying that they want to be the only “game” in town to learn how to play soccer?

    • Joshua

      Another interesting thing is that Neaves said he sees “several potential solutions.” That’s a far cry from his boss’, Don Hinton’s, stance that they will stand firm and have no intention of making any type of deal or compromise in this matter – and I spoke to him yesterday. Very interesting indeed…

  • Gthorder

    TMS & THS volleyball have been dealing with MHSAA rules for years that hinder our athletes & the growth of volleyball in our city…with no success. Good luck soccer team!

  • guest

    There is also the issue of the schools further north who allow their players to go play on independant teams in TN who still play unchecked by MHSAA. These teams may field as many as 8 to 9 players a roster. If they have the rule it needs to be enforced accross the board – Tupelo Schools have always follwed the rule.

  • guest

    Just a few thoughts:
    1. I do not see the argument as to being “unconstitutional” – that is shaky ground in IMHO.
    2. The ones who complain about the rule need to solve the issue of independent players leaving during regular HS season play to play in tournaments with their respective private teams. It is not right to ask a HS coach or HS team to field a team around the schedule of an independent player. Often many independent players leave during season play to play out of state leaving their team to “deal with it”. They took a spot on the team the student needs to finish their obligation to the HS team and not dump it for a better offer. Give the spot to a player that will be there.

    • Joshua

      This is not what is happening at all. I have been covering the story for a couple of months now and this reporter has some slightly faulty information. What is happening is the rule prevents five players from any one high school from playing on any one independent team, period. The Handbook specifies “during sports seasons,” but does not specify a particular season. Don Hinton, the E.D. of the MHSAA says the interpretation is intended to mean the entire school year. So, no club teams will make in any of the small towns in MS if only five from one high school are allowed to play. Club organizations have always worked to honor the HS schedules for the most part. But that isn’t what the controversy is about at all. The MHSAA refuses to give any ground whatsoever on the issue.

      • guest

        Granted it is not the issue but the rule affects it and should be considered in the decision. Volleyball and Soccer Club seasons over lap the school year and although some club teams work with the school many do not. There have been several local soccer players on the Tupelo HS team leave during tournament and regular season games to play in the bigger club tournaments – they do it for better college exposure. Now this is fine but I do think it is a bit unfair to ask the HS coaches and players to put up with this. If the rule is overturned HS teams would have to deal with more players who could possibly leave during season play.
        Also one only has to go up to Memphis during the club volleyball season and see the different teams full of players from the more Northern MS High Schools – one team had 7 HS players on it from the same HS in Mississippi a few years ago.
        This is not a new problem it has been going on for years – I for one would like to see how other states handle this issue.

        • guestaswell

          This should be a school mandate, not a state one. If the school is fine with the players leaving for showcases during the year, that’s their decision. If they are not, they don’t have to have them on the team. That simple. The coach and team do not “have” to put up with it. They choose to, USUALLY, because they want their kids having the best chance at playing college soccer and just getting better overall.

          This is not just extended to select soccer, but all levels. So, truthfully, you are going to hurt the smaller schools that only have one program around to benefit the players. It takes a strong class or two from these schools to compete, and they’re usually all on the same rec team. Club teams in Jackson and the coast will just shuffle players around to get around the rule- no big deal.

          I’m curious as to what your problem is with players playing outside of school? Why would we want to hamper that? That’s how you get better- you play as much as you can. Two months in the summer is nothing. Mississippi has come a long way in soccer, and you’re seeing it spread more and more. Why stop this?

          • guest

            I am saying it is the other side of the coin that needs to be considered in this debate – the schools have enough to deal with. I agree this is an issue to discuss but let’s discuss the whole issue – it affects more than just the select players.

            It is a point of having your cake and eating it too – since the chances of better college offers lie with the select / ODP programs let the student play in the club programs and stay out of the HS programs – why ask the school to have to deal with it. Why ask coaches to build a program around players that may or may not be there – why ask parents to booster a program that has rotating players that will affect play and practice.

            The point of school teams is to teach how to build one to work together not just to work around the schedules of select players.

          • MsMagnolia

            If you want a soccer team that ends up being the least experienced players with years less of training….then your side of the coin makes sense. People unfamiliar with soccer seem to think Select and High School coaches are different people. Select coaches ARE your high school/middle school & college coaches in areas where both is an option. Select players ARE your highs school team as well. Coaches do not want a rule that eliminates the best players. No one will quit 10 month select soccer where you get scouted for scholarships and pro teams so you can play 3 months of school soccer because its fun. This absolutely will ruin HS soccer and how dare anyone tell me my kid cant play on a high school team period because of what they do on the off time. Select soccer tournaments do not run with the school year season with very few exceptions anyway.The entire rule is discriminatory to the sport. Can you imagine if a new rule would eliminate almost the entire team of the best football programs in the state? How bout cheerleading or dance team? Your kid is on a competition team?…NOPE. Cant play. Doesn’t matter if you are the best. By all means play least experienced athletes!

          • guest

            Again you are looking at the issue from one side. With my children I have spent over the last 15 years in the select / club programs – there are two sides to this issue and we have yet to hear from MHSSA. The Select Programs grow out of the Park and Rec Teams and yes the High School benefits from this. Roughly 2% of Park and Rec Players move up to Select and 2% of those move up to ODP or offered college scholarships. The majority of the Select Players are not making the commitment so they can add to a quality HS team – they have bigger ambitions. Many multiple sport HS athletes have to make a decision to commit to one or the other for their best college options. If a player wants to pursue this it is fine by me but to think it does not affect the HS program you are wrong. I have seen several times where the HS coaches build teams and set rules only to have to “accept” the schedule of select players and then turn around and deal with the players.

            Good teams don’t have to have the best players to compete or to be a good program that the school and players can benefit from.

          • Todd

            They have been asked a number of times to tell everyone why they made the change. They have yet to explain….even in last weeks meeting with the AD’s from Starkville and Tupelo they did not elaborate. People, including myself have been asking since April when we found out about it…..So they have had plenty of chances. Mr. Horton has basically refused to address the issue with anyone outside of MHSAA. At least Dr. Proctor invited people outside his own organization back in 2006…..

            and by the way….this is not just about select…if you have a P&R team that has more than five players from the same HS…they are also in violation of the rule……

          • Todd

            Most of the select programs pretty much shutdown during HS soccer. The school can and do make the rules on how many practices you can miss or how many games you can miss before you are kicked off the team. And in Tupelo, at least, it is not very many. Some of your seniors/juniors might go to one of the big tournaments in the winter (Casl / Disney). But that is usually worked out even before the first practice of HS…at least in Tupelo.

          • guestaswell

            It’s not like it’s a hard issue to deal with. This is a great example of making a mountain out of a molehill.

            Ask the coaches if they’re okay with it or want to set boundaries. Let them do so. End of discussion.

            From a select view (which I’ve never participated in), the select programs normally shut down for the most part during the HS season to allow their players to play HS. But yes, they usually will attend a big tournament if it means a lot of exposure.

            From a rec view (which I’m familiar with)- had I not gotten my foundation through rec, I would not have gotten a JUCO scholarship when I graduated (which, money-wise to me is one of the better deals you can get IMO).

            You’re saying you don’t want the schools to deal with more than they already have to… think about having to teach basic skills to high school athletes (which I’ve done when our rec league pretty much went under). THAT’S dealing with more than you have to. Trust me on that. If they don’t play year-round, it’s just hard to be able to do even the most basic things right- and that’s how you win games. By performing the foundational skills efficiently. You can have a team full of great athletes, but if they can’t pass, dribble, shoot, it’s going to be hard to win.

        • Joshua

          I can tell you from firsthand observance that overlapping seasons is not the reason this rule was brought to bear and voted on…twice. I would bet my next ten paychecks this decision could all be traced back to sponsor money – as in, MHSAA and the school districts are not happy that independent teams are getting so much of “their” sponsor money. The truth is, there are 27,000 MS kids signed up to play club soccer, more than all other sports combined. That’s a whole lot of sponsor dollars the high schools aren’t getting as a result. Think about it…

          • guest

            First of all it was never said that overlapping seasons was the reason for the rule but it needs to be considered in the decision as it affects teams both HS and Select. I have seen this from first hand observance.

            Second – your assertion about sponsorship money makes little sense outside of the areas with heavy soccer programs and though there is large soccer participation in our state it comes nowhere near the softball / baseball participation which was dominate long before soccer became big. I can see many reasons for the rule – just a simple reason that the schools don’t want to become an extension of the club programs. Another simple reason could be the injury rate of young players playing a heavy schedule of 10+ months out of the year. Just a few years ago there were 6 HS players on the girl’s team out with ACL injuries – all select players – that did not count the boys that year. One rehab place put an ad in the program the next year with pictures of the players. Another simple reason is the school system would like to let other youth play not just the select players – there are many youth whose families might not have the money or the time to invest in club soccer but they have a venue in HS play. However I can see the smaller schools and the districts without club programs upset over having to field a team just to get destroyed by a HS coming in fielding a team with core select players.

            There could be many reason for the MHSAA ruling – they just don’t meet the needs of the select parents.

          • Joshua

            Why do you keep talking about Select as if that is relevant? The rule doesn’t differentiate between regular rec ball and Select. And how can you say that soccer comes nowhere near baseball and softball participation? There are more kids signed up to play soccer as of last season than all other sports combined. 27,000 MS kids play rec soccer.

            The MHSAA is a contracted entity with no accountability. They cannot be sued, nor can they be held accountable for any decisions they make. Not by the state legislature, not by anyone. The only way to hold them accountable is through the school district itself, which is, in this case at least, a necessary evil.

            I don’t see how you can seem so knowledgeable and not know some of the basic facts behind all this. A – one – single member school brought this issue before the legislative council back in January because they said it wasn’t fair that they were getting the socks beat off them by teams who had players who played year round. One school. This is where we are with this. Nevermind the players who won’t be able to play now because of this rule. Never mind all the high school age teams who have been prevented from forming because of this rule.

            While I appreciate the argument in favor of the rule, it simply isn’t as weighty as the one against it. But the MHSAA isn’t willing to budge one iota. There has to be a middle ground, and one that doesn’t end with school districts all over the state being sued.

          • guest

            One school complaint is a far cry from a sponsorship /money conspiracy now isn’t it. Also you know very well the issue is not with Park and Rec programs since the problem lies with the narrow amount of players playing in the Select programs. Areas like Tupelo can only field one team per age limit at best – if we could field 5 U17 teams we would not be concerned with this issue – so the numbers argument is just not there. The only area in the state that can benefit from this ruling is Jackson where they have numerous teams to spread players out – but that is not your argument either.

            The only argument you have that I see against the MSHAA ruling is to let core students play / practice year around together when there are numerous reasons against it.

            I am not against your issue and I wish you luck – volleyball is affected by this issue as well. Tupelo has held to the MSHAA rules while the schools to the north of us go up to Memphis and duck under the rule. I just suggest you consider all the issues affected. I would suggest again that we see some examples of how other states deal with this issue – like North Carolina.

            Regardless I wish you well.

          • Todd

            MHSAA is doing to the MS players EXACTLY what their National group raised hell about two years ago with National Team players. At that time the National Team’s group said that the players on the National teams or in the National pools should stop playing HS soccer and only play/practice for them. Indianapolis (where the National HS AA is based) raised HELL and sent out a scathing memo about how players should not be required to make that decision….they should be able to do both.

            Most states do not define the season as the whole school year.

          • Joshua

            Those involved, such as Mark Halbert, have indeed looked at other states with similar rules. MS is by far the most restrictive. In the words of Halbert, “the
            bottom line is, the rule is requiring some kids to choose between
            high school and club soccer, and some kids not to have to choose.
            That isn’t equal protection under the law.” And there you have it.

  • johrrty

    Simple stop competition in public schools and make sports intramural only.

  • the_rocket

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get parents to be this interested in their child’s actual education? Mississippi is continually at the bottom of the nation in scholastic rating and there’s no groups of parents suing for that. Let that same child miss five minutes of game time they’ll line up.

    • MsMagnolia

      MS is not at the bottom scholastically because of Select or HS soccer players, Thats a ridiculous and illogical notion. if anything it is the exact opposite. We should be thanked that our kids raise educational stats to even out the 98 dullard football players sitting on a bench for year after year. Also, it would not make anyone miss “five minutes”…it would eliminate 90% of current high school soccer teams completely.

      • the_rocket

        I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your child was on of the 2 percenter’s that was keeping our education score afloat. Please thank your ball kicker for preventing us from having a negative rating.

        • Joshua

          In our area at least, our “ball kickers,” as you so snidely and inappropriately put it, rank on average in the highest percentile scholastically. Please, if you absolutely must comment, try a little harder not to make such ignorant, asinine, and unfounded statements.

  • guest

    Coast teams dont have the luxury to shuffle players. This rule affects us all. We have three options. Dont play high school, dont play select soccer or join another select soccer team. The third option is to play in New Orleans, Mobile or some other MS club team that is too far away so that really isnt a viable option. The other two options are why we have come to a lawsuit. Bottom line is either we (the soccer parents) dont understand the need for the rule or MHSAA doesnt have a clue what they are asking these young players to decide between.

  • guest

    The article is a little confusing – does it mean any five club players or just 5 club players from the same club team?

    • Todd

      Five from the same team,,,,,that can be select, developmental or park and rec…..if more than five players play on the same team (even as a guest player) then they are all subject to the rule and will be ineligible the next year…