Football

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Judges to Parents: No Suit for You

8 Nov, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Some parents have moved their kids over state lines so that they could play sports. Some are pressuring coaches to register teams for out-of-state tournaments so that their children can get more field time (and more visibility). Others have tried to get around testing using various methods.

One tactic that has been tried several times over the course of the fall has been suing jurisdictions, and in some cases entire states, to force the reopening of sports.

The results have been largely dismissive as judges find such suits groundless.

In Illinois, a DuPage County judge ruled against a group of parents suing to get their kids back on the playing field. Those filing the lawsuit, according to the local CBS affiliate, had claimed the Illinois High School Association broke its own rules by moving certain fall sports – including football – to the spring without a vote.

The IHSA said its rules allow the organization to do that in the event of circumstances beyond its control, adding “a pandemic is pretty much the definition of that.”

The judge agreed, telling the parents, in essence, No suit for you.

“What we really have here in this state is a bunch of cowards who are in charge of things,” said David Ruggles, who filed the lawsuit. “They’re not advocating for the kids, and they ask, ‘What difference does it make?’ They throw their hands up and they walk away.”

In New York, the Hudson Valley Sports Report notes, a Nassau County Supreme Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit that tried to overturn the decision to move high school football in New York State from the fall to a March 1, 2021 start.

The suit differed from others in that it was not the product of parent action; instead, according to Newsday, Justice Jack L. Libert ruled against the Massapequa School District, which brought the suit, saying that Section 8 on Long Island “acted within the lawful scope of its authority” when it canceled all sports until January of 2021.

Another parent in upstate New York also sued for her son’s right to play football. Loraine Humphrey’s lawsuit asked the state, “How can New Yorkers be NY tough if 36 other states are playing high school football and New York high school students are relegated to flag football?”

The state has not changed its stance about football – and it appears unlikely that it will.

In other areas, lawsuits are threatened and make headlines – but never materialize.

Jeremi Duru, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law, told ABC News he was not surprised by the number of lawsuits that have been filed and he expects more to come, considering how "politicized the threat posed by the coronavirus" has become.

"Even without a declared state of emergency, authority to order quarantine or, in this case, restrict public gatherings like youth sporting events generally exists and if a governor declares a formal state of emergency on health grounds, that authority exists too," Duru told reporters. "But the authority requires that the restriction be rooted in something tangible – that there exists a need for the restriction. And that is where the rubber meets the road with these lawsuits. Those who are suing are essentially arguing the threat is not great enough to justify the state's use of its authority to restrict activity."

As sports start to move indoors, expect an increased scrutiny on COVID rates – and expect pushback from those who object to the fallout from positive tests, such as games being cancelled or schools closed.

However, there has been a case where the decision about spring football was reversed – although it may not be directly related to any one lawsuit. The Kansas City Star reported that both the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts revisited their previous decisions and announced they would allow fall sports. Before the announcement, five high school golfers sued the Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley districts over their decisions to temporarily ban all sports. A Blue Valley mother who had been pushing for sports to resume, Laura Rozell, also filed a complaint with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, saying the district violated open meetings law when it decided how to start the school year.

Overall, more states have elected to start fall football on time than have delayed it; however, some have made overall modifications to their fall season. Here is a map and a state-by-state synopsis.

It may be that states where conservative measures are practiced are able to open their season in the spring; however, as parents have pointed out, there is no guarantee of this and in the meantime, student athletes are losing out on not only playing opportunities but the chances to be noticed by college programs.

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