By Peter H. Milliken
Nick Bilas can continue to play football for Cardinal Mooney High School in the near future.
Magistrate Timothy Welsh of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday extended for two weeks the temporary restraining order enabling Bilas to do so.
Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of the same court had issued the order Aug. 24, enabling the junior offensive lineman, who had previously been enrolled in Poland Seminary High School, to play for Mooney until a scheduled Tuesday hearing.
No courtroom hearing took place Tuesday, but Welsh gave lawyers for the Bilas family and the Ohio High School Athletic Association until Friday to submit their final written arguments.
The magistrate will decide by the end of next week whether to replace the TRO with a preliminary injunction allowing Bilas to continue to play for Mooney.
Bilas’ family moved from Poland to Youngstown, transferring Bilas to Mooney.
The OHSAA, arguing on behalf of Poland, contended that the Bilas family moved to Youngstown for athletic purposes, and that Bilas should be required to sit out a season per the OHSAA’s transfer rules.
Tim Stried, an OHSAA spokesman, said Bilas should have to sit out one season because he did not meet one of the 11 transfer bylaw exceptions.
The exception at issue in this case is the one that exempts a student-athlete from sitting out a season if a transfer from one school district to another is necessitated by a bona fide legal change of residence, said Steven L. Craig of Canton, the OHSAA’s lawyer.
For example, if a family were required to move from one end of the state to the other due to a parent’s job relocation, he said the athlete likely would not have to sit out a year.
Bilas’ mother, Kimberly, discussed her son’s athletic eligibility with John Young, Mooney’s principal, in February, and she discussed the sale of the family’s Poland home with a real-estate agent later in the same month, Craig wrote in a brief filed Tuesday.
Bilas transferred from Poland to Mooney in March “two months before any purported move,” Craig argued.
The Bilas family moved to Nick Bilas’ grandfather’s Youngstown residence because Bilas’ father, Marine Maj. John Bilas has had a change of career plans, according to the Bilas family’s lawyer, Mark Hanni.
Maj. Bilas, now stationed in Washington, D.C., had originally planned to retire immediately to his Poland home. But, instead of retiring, he will be promoted to lieutenant colonel, resulting in a five-to-eight-year extension of his Marine career, for which he will re-assigned elsewhere, Hanni said.
Under these circumstances, it would not have made financial sense for the Bilas family to continue paying the mortgage on a Poland home, and it made sense for them to move in with a family member in Youngstown to allow the younger Bilas to finish high school in the Mahoning Valley, Hanni explained.
“We do believe that we have overwhelming credible evidence on behalf of Maj. Bilas and his family. It had nothing to do with athletics. It was totally financial,” Hanni said of the Bilas’ move and school transfer.
Young said in an interview he has visited the Medford Avenue house in Youngstown, and he has no doubt that the Bilas’ have established a bona fide residence there. So far this season, the younger Bilas has played football for Mooney against Cleveland St. Ignatius and Boardman.
The OHSAA-member schools want students to have a stable educational environment without unnecessary transfers.
“It’s about education, and that should be the core driving any and all decisions,” Craig said.