Judge won’t stop limits on soccer play

mhsaa logo, no bkgdBy Patsy R. Brumfield

Daily Journal

ABERDEEN – A federal judge Friday declined to halt the ban of some teenage soccer players from their high school teams.

U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock, after a three-hour hearing Thursday and a conference call Friday, decided not to issue a preliminary injunction on enforcement of what’s called “The 50% Rule” by the Mississippi High School Activities Association Inc.

Aycock also dismissed the lawsuit filed against MHSAA by 16 teen soccer players and their parents from Tupelo and Starkville.

MHSAA, a Jackson-based nonprofit, governs athletic and academic competitions for state high schools.

The MHSAA rule, put on hold the past seven years, limits high school play by independent or club players during the “sports season” to just half the number a team can field – in the case of soccer, that’s five players.

Under the rule, others who play on club teams cannot be part of their high school team.

MHSAA claims the rule is aimed at preventing “specialization” in a sport for domination by a particular school.

High school soccer season runs from Monday through Feb. 7, 2014, and club play occurs August through May.

“Obviously, we are disappointed,” said plaintiff’s attorney Mark Halbert of Tupelo.

“This may be the end of our efforts, but it may not be the end of the issue,” he noted.

The rule was activated, MHSAA says, to make soccer play the same as it has for other sports, like football, basketball or baseball.

But critics say soccer is different and the other sports do not have club play during their regular seasons.

Tupelo High School junior Ben Alford’s mother, Deanna, said Friday she doesn’t see MHSAA willing to work with the players and parents to find a solution between high school and club participation.

“It’s not just about our kids – it’s all the Mississippi kids who want to play at these levels,” she said, adding that her son and some others will be able to play at THS because their limited club play did not hurt their eligibility so far this school year.

Dr. Andrew Mackin, Starkville’s club team coach, was not immediately available to say what his players will do, although in testimony Thursday, he said they are heavily committed to elite club tournament play next spring.

In her 11-page ruling, Aycock said that despite the plaintiffs’ legal standing, they could not pass the legal hurdle for their likelihood of success with their complaint.

“Although better alternatives may exist,” Aycock wrote, “the MHSAA is not required to choose the least restrictive method of achieving its desired ends.”

Thursday, Halbert insisted to Aycock that the issue was not about eligibility but a constitutional one of equal protection, that with the rule, MHSAA allows some to play and others cannot.

Don Hinton, MHSAA executive director, was not available to comment on the ruling.

patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com

  • Andrea P

    A step backward for soccer in Mississippi…

  • guestaswell

    Heaven forbid we encourage kids to become good at something by practicing outside of the season.

    You know, there were two sports I quit playing in HS (played 4 until 10th grade). The first was because the softball coach made me choose between softball and tennis (they coincided). Tennis was known for winning state titles, we were expected to win every match we played, etc. Softball, if people had grown up playing it great, but nobody really cared that much. We had 50/50 years and lost in the first round every year. It was hard at the time, but I chose tennis.

    I also played soccer and basketball and they coincided, though nobody made me choose. We had a good team in soccer, not great, but we were competitive and worked hard. Basketball was the opposite. I’ve never been around something where people literally did not care. Got beat 90-10 on a running clock in a district tournament one time (I was an 8th grader that moved up after our season was over). I got a lot of playing time, and after the game I was so upset. But what bothered me more is there was maybe one other person that even cared. I gave it another year, but it was taking too much time away from a sport I wanted to dedicate myself to.

    Want to see specialization? Put kids on teams where nobody encourages you to get better. I’ve never played a sport where I only worked at it during the high school season and then only the summer. You work all year to be good. And guess what- you can do that on top of numerous other things- I was homecoming queen, salutatorian, president of SGA, yearbook editor, you name it, I did it.

    Bottom line is some schools are mad they don’t have the opportunities others do, including my own alma mater. All I can tell them is to invest in their community and form leagues and get better. Don’t punish others for working hard. What kind of a message is that to send a kid?

  • MHSAAisajoke

    MHSAA’s attorney, Jeff Trotter of Jackson, claims the rule was instituted for “fair play” to prevent “specialization” of a team sport by a school whose players stay active all year round.

    …..you mean like football? HS football is a year-round activity operating within MHSAA rules where players receive school credit to attend. Other sports, including soccer at some places, are also offered year round during or right after school hours. What a load of crap! People need to keep this fight going until it changes. This will only succeed at lowering the level of soccer in MS.

  • Brian Alford

    In today’s competitive world of sports, if a child doesn’t practice or play the sport they love all
    year they’re not even considered for the next level unless of course they are a prodigy. MHSAA has the same problem as other athletic organizations and that is thinking every child should receive a
    trophy. Kids need to understand that they can fail and that there are better players on the field because they bust their butts all year working to be the best. Stop awarding kids for being average and not putting in the time to be the best!!!!

  • Guest Person

    A question that has been asked plenty of times but not answered in detail – just what do other states do in this matter. Is there not another state that has addressed this issue that helps both sides other than just let the select players loose in the HS leagues?

    • Kevin

      I believe that Mississippi could hold high school soccer season at a different time of the year, but then that would either cut into football or baseball participation. With small schools dotting the Mississippi countryside, then kids would have to choose between either football and soccer or baseball and soccer. Some schools are so small that there wouldn’t be enough kids for every sport. i might be wrong here, but I think this is one of the reasons why the club/select soccer is so controversial.

      I for one, as stated above on this forum, believe that there’s too much emphasis on athletics in high school. We should scale it back just a little bit. I teach at a university here in the State and I routinely draw out sports analogies because that’s the only thing kids really understand. I’ve got students who have never heard of Faulkner and they’re from Mississippi. But every student I’ve had over the past 8 years, male and female, has heard of Walter Payton and Brett Favre.

      • Guest

        Kevin, The MHSAA (MS High School Activities
        Association) who was the defendant in the case wants student athletes to play
        multiple high school sports, and the current soccer season doesn’t prevent
        that. What their arguments were in this case regarding the approved elimination
        of the soccer exemption, after 7 years of coexistence with other rules and
        sports, was #1: Put soccer under the same rules as other sports…. “Why should
        soccer have an exemption when other sports don’t?”, and #2: And more
        importantly for the case, to prevent an unfair advantage for some schools that
        don’t have the same club or recreational opportunities as other schools based on
        their community ability to form one. Even though these arguments are weak, and
        inherently cause the same problems the exemption was put into the rules for,
        nothing has changed except the people at MHSAA. This is the only change
        that allowed for the representatives of the member schools, that know nothing,
        or very little about soccer to be lured into voting the exemption out of the
        rules. The MHSAA fairness testimony by Director Don Hinton wasn’t backed up by
        any supporting documents at the hearing. However, it was the sole reason the
        judge didn’t allow the injunction, and the case to move forward. She concluded,
        albeit even on his limited testimony, that the fairness issue rose to
        the minimum rational letter of the law. The plaintiffs in this case were the
        14, 15, and 16 year old student athletes that are now forced to choose between
        their local rec/club soccer programs or high school. What their case involved
        was the constitutional issue of equal protection; and what they claim is
        that the MHSAA rule change has again created 2 classes of student athletes,
        determined by the soccer coach picking 5 players, from any 1 club team, that he
        will allow to play both rec/club and high school. If there is only one
        recreational opportunity in a particular community then the sport of soccer
        is adversely affected by the 50% rule it was previously exempted from. If you are not
        chosen then you can’t play both. You have to choose. This is discriminatory, and could be based on ability, race, or whatever position the
        coach thinks he needs filled to make the best team. Fortunately both parties
        had standing, and the MHSAA can be sued on constitutional issues. Unfortunately
        the judge ruled against real fairness, here again albeit with limited
        testimony. Maybe she will reconsider the injunction and the case can move
        forward, allowing for full discovery, to be judged on the
        full merits.

        • Guest Person

          Your point is well taken Guest – a good example is volleyball which in Tupelo has suffered for years under this rule while soccer has enjoyed a pass – to beat all club volleyball season ends in July well before the school year starts. The volleyball club program has really suffered over the past years because of this rule – BUT the players and the parents followed it.

          No the soccer players are not the only group affected by this ruling they just now have to follow the rule like the other sports. The soccer club season overlaps the school year and depending on the club team can conflict with the HS team.

          • Eric Johnson

            Your point about suffering is well taken. I don’t think the MHSAA cares about that, and would like to spread it around to be fair in that regard. The unfair advantage argument they used in court was very weak, and wasn’t supported by any documentation. Those communities that don’t have rec or club teams don’t support the sport,
            and in most cases don’t have a high school sport that competes at a high level or
            the sport at all. In fact, the lack of the exemption, does the exact same thing to us in communities that care about the sport, but only have one rec or club program compared to bigger metropolitan areas like Jackson or along the gulf coast. We have talked to representatives that have moved on from the MHSAA that were there when this rule change was initiated last year, and the fairness argument wasn’t used. It’s kind of weird, don’t you think, that not one member school district rep voted against it. Maybe because they were told that this rule change was going be good for soccer, and went along without understanding the implications. They sure didn’t communicate any concerns back to their district member schools. This was because most don’t know Soccer or the State, Collegiate, and National concerns encompassing the sport. If you recall, Rickey Neaves said the student athlete should play during the Summer. This comment was a joke, and he is supposed to be over soccer at MHSAA. Maybe things will change. It was a good start getting Don Hinton on the stand. Even better is will be in front of legislative committee.

      • Eric Johnson

        Kevin, The MHSAA (MS High School Activities
        Association) who was the defendant in the case wants student athletes to play
        multiple high school sports, and the current soccer season doesn’t prevent
        that. What their arguments were in this case regarding the approved elimination
        of the soccer exemption to the 50% rule, after 7 years of coexistence with the
        rules, and sports, was #1: Put soccer under the same rules as other sports….
        “Why should soccer have an exemption when other sports don’t?”, and #2: And
        more importantly for the case, to prevent an unfair disadvantage for some
        schools that don’t have the same club or recreational opportunities as other
        schools based on their community ability to form one. Even though these
        arguments are weak, and inherently cause the same problems the exemption was put
        into the rules for, nothing has changed except the people at MHSAA. This is the
        only change that allowed for the representatives of the member schools,
        that know nothing, or very little about soccer to be lured into voting the
        exemption out of the rules. The MHSAA fairness testimony by Director Don
        Hinton wasn’t backed up by any supporting documents at the hearing. However, it
        was the sole reason the judge didn’t allow the injunction, and the case to move
        forward. She concluded, albeit even on his limited testimony, that the fairness
        issue rose to the minimum rational letter of the law. The plaintiffs in this
        case were the 14, 15, and 16 year old student athletes that are now forced to
        choose between their local rec/club soccer programs or high school. What their
        case involved was the constitutional issue of equal protection; and what they
        claim is that the MHSAA rule change has again created 2 classes
        of student athletes, determined by the soccer coach picking 5 players, from any
        1 club team, that he will allow to play both rec/club and high school. If there
        is only one recreational opportunity in a particular community then the sport of
        soccer is adversely affected by the 50% rule it was previously exempted from. If
        you are not chosen then you can’t play both. You have to choose. This is
        discriminatory, and could be based on ability, race, or whatever position the
        coach thinks he needs filled to make the best team. Fortunately both parties
        had standing, and the MHSAA can be sued on constitutional issues. Unfortunately
        the judge ruled against real fairness, here again albeit with limited
        testimony. Maybe she will reconsider the injunction and the case can move
        forward, allowing for full discovery, to be judged on the
        full merits.

  • johnnycatt

    Mississippi’s insistence on mediocrity is the reason our colleges LAG behind every other SEC State in athletics… it’s good for me, I’m an ALABAMA fan. ALABAMA and LSU, have been snatching talent out of this state for DECADES! WHY? because “winning kids” wanna play for a “winning college” and the ONLY way to get better college programs is to have better HS programs!! It even effects where the ACADEMIC scholars choose go to college!! Limiting the training of ANY athlete will only result in inferior talent.. and the rest of the SEC marches on at the expense of Mississippi… Good Job MSHAA! I mean, it’s a good job if you want to continue breeding HS drop-outs and welfare queens!

  • Eric Johnson

    If you had the opportunity to be part of the MHSAA
    hearing in Aberdeen Thursday you would have come away with the opinion that the
    MHSAA doesn’t know what it doing regarding the sport of soccer or have the
    ability to write an understandable handbook of rules that they say are the
    member school’s rules, not theirs. The fact is that our member school’s
    representatives voted on a new 2013-2014 handbook of rules that is an
    embarrassment to the state of Mississippi, and filled with plagiarized excerpts
    from the Louisiana handbook. This sloppy and weak 2 year effort gave our member
    schools inconsistent rules, and conflicting language that leaves the member
    schools with no idea what rule to follow in order to be in compliance. Yet if
    the member school acts based on language or a rule that is interpreted by
    Director Don Hinton to have a different meaning or preference then they are
    subject to eligibility violations, game, tournament, and season forfeiture, and
    monetary fines. The member schools should demand a re adoption of the previous
    handbook until the MHSAA can properly evaluate, proof, and rewrite the new one
    with consistent rules indicating what rule takes preference, and proper
    clarifications to Director Hinton’s interpretations of the language. The MHSAA
    should only have a revote after the member school rules handbook is rewritten,
    easily decipherable, and acknowledged as such by the member school
    representatives.

  • Kevin

    I think that collectively if Americans scaled back just a little bit on the amount of sports they support and take in and direct that energy elsewhere, then society might get a little bit better. Kids go to school, supposedly, to learn and to get prepared for the rigors of adult life someday. But it seems like in Mississippi that kids go to school to play athletics, which has its place in the life of a child, but it is not the only thing that they should do. Club soccer and then high school soccer–it’s just too many freaking games. When do these kids study and hold down a part time job and spend time with their friends?

    • Todd

      Like life …they find the time and work hard to do it. That is the lesson they learn about life. They are with their friends and most of them know that the sport is not the only thing.Parents are smart enough to know they are not going to make a career playing soccer. But the life lessons are there. Hard work, sportsmanship, selflessness, etc…. At least that has been my experience. My son played club, HS and currently plays college soccer. From his club team last year, nine of the players have gone on to play college soccer. All nine of them are on both athletic and academic Scholarship’s. And they represent five different HS’s (Pontotoc, Tupelo, Amory, Columbus and New Albany).

      • Kevin

        You say that “most of them know that the sport is not the only thing” and then you support this claim with your own personal experiences. And it sounds like you’ve done a fine job with your family. My point is, however, that there are so many folks who consider youth athletics, NCAA sports, and the pros as the end-all, be-all of human existence. The money and energy we throw at these things indicates that society values games over other things, especially given the fact that the highest paid “educators” in the Mississippi public school system are athletic directors (who make on average more than 5X than the poor soul who teaches English or speech and communications). This represents that society cares little about things that will teach kids actual skills for later in life, but puts most of their eggs in the basket of running, shooting, dribbling, tackling, corner kicking, hitting, and throwing, etc–skills that don’t get you very far after age 30 or so. All I’m saying is that we should scale back a little on our love of athletics. We should get our priorities straight and pay a little less attention to games.

        Another point I’m making is that the DJ has regular articles on public finance, taxation, big U.S. government, murders, business yet the thing that generates more responses from readers are stories related to athletics. I know you all care about youth soccer and I think you probably got a raw deal with this one, but school should be more than just athletics because we’re training generations now of young people who know more about athletic heroes than they do about how the world works or their very humanity. Where is the outrage that Mississippi consistently ranks near the bottom in the nation in terms of educating its children?

        • Todd

          Do not disagree Kevin. There is a balance for sure. You and I sound like we were lucky to have parents / teachers / someone who helped us understand why a good education is needed and that balance. I have tried to pass that on myself. We just have to keep trying and pass that on as many chances that we can and be that person for someone else. Sounds like you already do…and thank you. I could never be that kind of teacher. And you would probably fall out of your chair if you knew what the ED of MHSAA makes per year! LOL We just have to make a difference everyday.

  • Eric Johnson

    The MHSAA (Mississippi High
    school Activities Association, Inc.) was sued last week in MS Federal Court in
    Aberdeen by plaintiffs asking for an
    immediate injunction over rule changes to the new MHSAA 2013-2014 Handbook that
    was voted into place through their legislative process beginning last Fall. In
    particular was the rule change that removed an exemption that High School Soccer
    has had in place for the last seven years. The court didn’t approve the
    injunction, but has initially judged in favor of the MHSAA argument. However, the plaintiffs had standing and the MHSAA can be sued over Constitutional issues. More importantly at
    this time, are you aware that the
    entire MHSAA 2013-2014 Handbook format was changed, with new
    sections, definitions, and language
    adopted?

    The 4 hour court session last
    Thursday allowed almost 2 hours of direct testimony from MHSAA Executive
    Director Don Hinton. He testified at the hearing that
    the MHSAA spent the last 2 years producing this completely new handbook filled with
    numerous new sections that were plagiarized from the Louisiana High School
    Activities Association Handbook. These new sections are what have led to the
    many inconsistent rules, contradictory language, and definitions that severely
    damage, and complicate what the rules are to mean, and which one should take
    precedent.

    Most,
    if not all, High School AD’s and
    Coaches attended only one rules meeting to go over the new handbook in late July
    2013 just before school started. In fact the new handbook didn’t get published
    on line to view for the first time until July 15, 2013. How does that
    give our schools time to notify the public about any rule changes in a timely
    manner? I know our school officials still had questions that led to direct
    communication with the Executive Director in early August to find out what his
    interpretations were to a lot of the new inconsistent rules, and language. I
    was also shocked to learn that some of these interpretations by the Executive
    Director were only first mentioned at the hearing last week while he was under
    oath. Why should our Mississippi member school’s new MHSAA Handbook,
    that requires them to enforce compliance, be subject to interpretation, and
    preference concerns? If these are the school’s rules, not the MHSAA’s as stated
    by Director Hinton in testimony, then the rules should be spelled out in
    an easily understood, and defined way, not left to his executive interpretation
    or preference.

    As a parent of a high school student athlete, I know that I don’t
    have standing against the actions of the MHSAA, but I am concerned that the new
    handbook of rules is being applied differently across our State; and I think
    there is good reason for the previous MHSAA handbook to be reinstituted until
    the new handbook can be fully reviewed, evaluated, and then proofed before it is
    rewritten, and adopted.

    I believe a serious
    injustice has been done to all the member schools by the MHSAA. They took 2 years to write a significantly plagiarized
    handbook of member school rules that led to this problem. The entire
    process lacked proper notification, review, feedback, understanding, and
    education before our member school representatives were asked to vote on its
    adoption.

    I hope the member schools do the right thing, and force their association to start over on a new handbook. The money that was spent should be credited back to the member schools, and the 8 member handbook committee should all be held accountable. Our State’s member schools deserve better.