TUPELO – A chancery hearing on Tuesday will consider whether new rules governing high school soccer players and other athletes, who play for independent or “select” teams, will stand.
Sixteen high school soccer players, mostly from Tupelo, seek removal of a state athletic group rule that they claim prevents their play for their own high school teams and on select 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 set for 11 a.m. 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 team players to five per independent team. 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 in other sports does not occur during their high school sports 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 Andrew Mackin, Alex Ross and Matt Ross, Michael Sullivan and Barry Sullivan, and Rylan Moore and David Ray Moore.
The players attend Tupelo High School or Starkville High School.
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.
Rickey Neaves, MHSAA associate director, said the new rule will not “ruin” high school or independent teams.
“All our rules are to protect high school teams,” he said, adding that he sees “several potential solutions.”
Contributing: Brandon Speck