The Higley football team made headlines last week when it learned one of its players was ineligible. The school will self-report the violation to the Arizona Interscholastic Association before October’s executive board meeting, at which time it also plans to appeal this case.
Based on numerous conversations with coaches, school administration and district administration, let’s start with background before analyzing the appeal process.
Ricky Marshall transferred from Desert Ridge to Higley in mid-September 2012, three weeks into the football season. He sat out the remainder of the 2012 season and hadn’t moved into Higley district boundaries.
In meeting with Higley’s former athletic director, the family was under the impression that Ricky would be eligible to play this season, 365 days after leaving Desert Ridge.
But AIA rule 188.8.131.52 basically says if you don’t move into the next school’s attendance boundaries, you’re also ineligible the following year. The family said it didn’t know this, and Higley believed he’d been living in its boundaries, which is why it allowed him to play the first two games of the season. Marshall carried the ball 25 times for 347 yards and seven touchdowns in the team’s first two games, nearly 14 yards per attempt.
The problem was he’d been living with a different family outside Higley boundaries since the start of the 2013 school year for personal and family reasons (which are also behind his transfer from Desert Ridge and a possible factor in an appeal, Higley sources said). This was intentional, as his parents went through the power of attorney protocol and paperwork to change custody and legally allow him to enroll at Higley, but according to AIA bylaws, a POA isn’t enough to become athletically eligible.
So far it sounds like a clear-cut case of familial and administrative errors, and a kid transferring for athletic reasons, so trying to appeal this would be a waste of time?
Maybe. Maybe not.
In addition to personal and familial reasons for transferring to Higley and changing legal custody — reasons private in nature but which will be revealed to the executive board — at the time of Marshall’s transfer in 2012, the now-departed athletic director at Higley was brand new to being an AD (he’s since taken a different job out of state). There’s a chance he didn’t know the entire rule book after three weeks on the job, and the family will contend they didn’t receive correct information as it relates to domicile and transfer rules. Subsequently, the Knights had a new athletic director and district athletic director to begin the 2013-2014 school year.
Factor in the suicide of former district athletic director Art Wagner during the spring — who knew the rules like the back of his hand having been on the AIA executive board — and the amount of change at the school and district level in athletics and administration the past six months has been tumultuous.
The first option is for Marshall’s parents to move into Higley’s boundaries, an option being explored, but not obvious due to some of those private, family reasons.
Otherwise, those are the facets Higley plans to show in appealing this situation to the AIA executive board:
1. Specific personal and family reasons — not simply football — were an impetus behind his transfer to Higley and change of custody.
2. The turmoil, lack of on-the-job knowledge due to newness of previous athletic director in his position, and subsequent upheaval at the Higley school/district level in 2012 and 2013 led to misinformation, lack of knowledge and incorrect assertations made to the family by the previous administration as it relates to the AIA bylaws.
3. The district and school has been forthright in its investigation, self-reporting, cooperation and offering up as much information and as many details as possible, believing it truly never knew Marshall’s situation was against the rules, never hid or skirted around information and immediately self-reported and underwent immediate corrective action when errors were discovered (forfeit the two games in which he played to start this season).
That’s Higley’s case, and both the school and district are sticking to it.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.