By Kristine gill
Relatives are challenging a OHSAA ruling that prevented two brothers from playing baseball for Austintown Fitch High this week.
Kevin and Alex Sierra were the subjects of an April 10 Vindicator article which detailed how the boys made the varsity and freshman teams after moving to Austintown from Puerto Rico.
“The kids were crying because they live for baseball. They love baseball,” said the boys’ aunt Maria Tirado, who has spoken with a lawyer and hopes to reverse the decision.
Tim Stried, director of information services for OHSAA, said someone who read the article mailed the governing body a copy questioning the players’ eligibility. According to documentation provided by the school, Stried said both of the Sierra’s custodial parents live out of the state, making them ineligible.
Tirado claims the students’ grandmother, Johanna Sierra Caraballo, who also lives with them in Austintown, has physical custody through power of attorney.
Power of attorney in Ohio does not grant legal custody but “authorizes the child in question to attend school in the district in which the grandparent designated as attorney in fact resides and that grandparent is authorized to provide consent in all school-related matters and to obtain from the school district educational and behavioral information about the child,” according to the Ohio Revised Code.
Stried said Fitch failed to conduct an eligibility ruling through the OHSAA that is typically done for all transfer students to address such situations.
“There are a couple issues there, obviously,” Stried said. “I think the story in the paper is just what prompted someone to ask for them.”
Fitch coach Wally Ford said the school may not have collected all the necessary materials from the Sierras.
“The school thought power of attorney and the affidavit would be sufficient but I guess according to the state there was more information that needed to be filed,” he said. “I really think that after they look at all the information they’ll rule in our favor. The big question is when they’re going to do that.”
Ford said he did not recruit the boys and met them after they moved to Austintown and did not move to the country just to play baseball.
“We had the power of attorney granting the grandmother custody. She was living in Austintown. There was a sworn affidavit saying the main reason the boys were coming to live with the grandmother was to avoid violence (in Puerto Rico),” Ford said.
OHSAA bylaw 4-6 states that a student can play for the team under the custody of another family member provided custody was transferred for the student’s well-being and not just so the student could play a sport.
“Nobody is safe there,” Tirado said of Puerto Rico. “I was concerned there. We cannot continue living there [if] the kids’ lives are in fear. I told my sister to move here and it’s a better place to live. They can learn different courses and they can learn to play baseball.”
Ford said the boys missed games on Thursday and Friday. The next two weeks include slew of games and a major chunk of the season.
“We won last night, but we do miss Kevin,” Ford said. “He’s our center fielder and our leadoff hitter. It definitely weakens our line up.”