By Peter H. Milliken
Nick Bilas, a junior offensive lineman, can continue to play football for Cardinal Mooney High School, a magistrate ruled.
“The Ohio High School Athletic Association is enjoined from enforcing its decision denying interscholastic athletic eligibility to Nicholas Bilas,” Timothy G. Welsh, a magistrate in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, ruled Monday.
The OHSAA said Bilas, who transferred to Mooney from Poland Seminary High School this year, should be required to sit out one season because the association said the Bilas family moved from Poland to Youngstown for athletic purposes.
“The decision of the OHSAA is not supported by reliable, credible and substantial evidence,” the magistrate wrote as he granted the preliminary injunction Kimberly Bilas had sought against the association on behalf of her son.
Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of the same court had granted a temporary restraining order in late August, which enabled Bilas to continue playing football for Mooney, pending Monday’s decision on the preliminary injunction.
“We were fully confident that once a court reviewed their decision, any court would have overturned the OHSAA’s decision,” said Atty. Mark A. Hanni, who represents the Bilas family.
“I was happy to protect the Bilas family’s rights and fight for them while Maj. Bilas is fighting for our country,” Hanni said, referring to Bilas’ father, Marine Maj. John Bilas.
“We have received the magistrate’s decision and will make a decision in the near future if we will take additional measures,” said Tim Stried, the OHSAA’s director of information. The parties to the case have 14 days to object in writing to the magistrate’s decision.
The magistrate found that Kimberly Bilas’ decision to transfer her son to Mooney was based primarily on the family’s finances and the academic benefits of Mooney’s system of block scheduling of classes.
Her decision was also “motivated by the spiritual support, which her son would receive at Cardinal Mooney, which was not available at Poland Seminary High School,” the magistrate said.
Mooney is a Roman Catholic high school, while Poland Seminary is a public school.
Even the OHSAA appeals panel recognized that there was no evidence Mooney recruited Bilas, Welsh added.
The magistrate also said the younger Bilas would “suffer irreparable harm” if he were forced to sit out an athletic season because he would lose “the benefits of athletic training, camaraderie and competition, as well as potential college scholarship opportunities.”
The Bilas family moved to Nick Bilas’ grandfather’s Youngstown residence because Maj. Bilas has had a change in career plans, Hanni said.
The major, now stationed in Washington, D.C., had originally planned to retire to his Poland home. But instead of retiring, he will be promoted to lieutenant colonel, resulting in an extension of his Marine career for five-to-eight years, for which he will be reassigned 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.
In his written closing argument to the magistrate, the OHSAA’s lawyer, Steven L. Craig of Canton, contended the financial explanation doesn’t make sense.
That’s because Bilas has gone from a tuition-free public school to a parochial school that charges tuition, and the family must simultaneously pay rent for their Youngstown residence and mortgage payments on the Poland home pending its sale, the association said.