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Student files suit to play basketball

YOUNGSTOWN — The guardian of an Ursuline High School student filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, asking a judge to allow the student to continue playing basketball and overturn the decision of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Later Tuesday, Judge Anthony D’Apolito issued a temporary restraining order in the case, allowing the student to continue to play at least until a preliminary injunction hearing at 9 a.m. Jan. 24.

The suit states the student, who is identified only by his initials “T.B.,” transferred to Ursuline from Cardinal Mooney High School this school year after being bullied at Cardinal Mooney. The guardian’s name is Mark J. Beck.

The suit does not name Mooney as a defendant. It names the Ohio High School Athletic Association and Jerry Snodgrass, OHSAA executive director, as defendants because the organization on Monday ruled against the family’s effort to get an exemption from an OHSAA rule.

Calls to the administration of Cardinal Mooney High School and to Snodgrass were not returned.

The suit states that during last school year, the student “was the victim of ongoing intimidation, harassment and bullying from his classmates at Cardinal Mooney.” It caused him to seek counseling in October 2018.

The mistreatment continued into the fall of this school year, leading the student to experience diminishing grades, anxiety and “an overall fear for his safety while attending classses.”

His mother contacted Cardinal Mooney Principal Mark Vollmer on or about Oct. 3 and reported the bullying, the suit states. The student’s father also called Mark Oles, Cardinal Mooney president, Oct. 8 about the issue. His parents enrolled the student at Ursuline Oct. 14.

OHSAA rules allow a student to “participate in the first 50 percent of an athletic season following a transfer, but the student athlete will subsequently become ineligible for the back 50 percent of the season,” the suit states.

An exception to that bylaw, however, allows a student to participate more than 50 percent if the reason for the transfer was “the result of being a victim of intimidation, harassment or bullying.”

Ursuline athletic director John DeSantis wrote to the OHSAA on Dec. 9 asking for a determination of whether the student would be granted an exception. The OHSAA senior director of compliance, Deborah Moore, emailed DeSantis in which she refused to make a determination of the student’s eligibility, “claiming a lack of documentation” of the bullying.

She later offered legal counsel for the student an appeal hearing, which took place Jan. 9. Several days later, the OHSAA notified the student that the appeal had been denied.

The suit states Mooney did not “formally investigate the bullying allegations” or “prepare a written investigative report” of the allegations.

Moore later cited the lack of documented evidence of an investigation into the bullying allegations as a reason why she would not make a determination of the student’s eligility, the suit states.

Vollmer testified during the appeal he was “aware of the bullying complaint, told teachers to monitor the hallways, but explained that he did not interview any students or prepare a written report of any bullying findings,” the suit states.

The suit calls the OSHAA decision unreasonable and arbitrary and says the student is being “treated differently from other similarly situated individuals,” and the application of the exception in the student’s case violates his rights to equal protection under the law.

The suit seeks an injunction from the court allowing the student to continue to play basketball until the matter is resolved and a ruling overturning the OHSAA’s decision.

A copy of the OHSAA’s decision included with the lawsuit said a factor in its decision was that “the required documentation” in the exception “was either not submitted or did not exist. Therefore, the (OHSAA) was unable to provide a formal ruling.”

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