Restraining orders granted in two cases against OHSAA
Athletes from East,
to remain eligible
By Joe Gorman
An Ursuline High School football player Thursday asked a judge in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to grant a temporary restraining order against the Ohio High School Athletic Association after it ruled he is ineligible to play.
Judge Anthony D’Apolito granted the request for Julian Johnson, a junior wideout and defensive back, meaning he is eligible to suit up and play for the Irish until his case is heard on Oct. 12.
Walter Madison, Johnson’s attorney, also filed a lawsuit Thursday against the OHSAA because of its decision.
Also in common pleas court Thursday, Judge Maureen Sweeney issued a temporary restraining order against the OHSAA after it ruled that four East High School athletes — football players Patrick Allen Jr., Lennie Davenport and Tyler Wagner as well as volleyball player Miranda McCann — are also ineligible to play sports this year because they went to Chaney High School last season.
The athletes, all seniors, were declared ineligible after it was determined by the OHSAA that the four students, who attend Chaney which has no varsity sports this year, could not play for East. All four students attended East last year but were reassigned to Chaney when the school decided to reopen Chaney as a high school for the upcoming school year.
Attorneys for the four East athletes filed a lawsuit in common pleas court as well Thursday against the OHSAA’s ruling. Per the terms of the restraining order, the athletes are eligible until the case is heard, which will be on Oct. 9. Rick Shepas, the athletic director for Youngstown City Schools, said he was “indifferent” to the suit as the district intends to follow any mandate from the state.
“Their status is the same as it was last week,” Shepas said of the four athletes. “They’re in practice and they’ll play and until we’re told otherwise. That will be the way it is. If that should change, we’ll be in compliance and work through the whole process.”
Shepas said the reason eligibility issues have come into play midseason is because the because schools are currently submitting their numbers of enrollment for competitive balance
“It’s all new for the state, numbers were first reported in July and there’s some uniqueness to how Chaney coming back into the sports picture and then you have competitive balance numbers due at the same time,” Shepas said. “It’s complicated for everyone involved. It really is.”
In Madison’s lawsuit, Johnson played the entire 2017 football season with Ursuline, but financial hardship led to his father being unable to pay for a year’s tuition, so he spent the spring semester at Chaney. He then transferred back to Ursuline for the fall of 2018 when his father came up with the tuition money.
In an exhibit submitted by Madison, an Aug. 15 email from OHSAA assistant commissioner Roxanne Price to Ursuline athletic director Sean Durkin, the case for Johnson’s ineligibility is outlined. Price put forth three questions: Is the student a transfer student? Did the student play football within the past 12 months of transferring to Ursuline and does the student meet any transfer exceptions? She answered yes to the first two questions and no to the last one. The fact that Johnson previously played for Ursuline doesn’t waive the transfer requirements. In the OHSAA bylaws, financial hardship isn’t considered an exception. Durkin declined to comment when reached Thursday night.
Madison’s lawsuit says the OHSAA never responded to requests by Johnson’s family if he would remain eligible by going back to Ursuline and that its decision to rule him ineligible was arbitrary.
Vindicator sportswriter Brian Dzenis contributed this story.