Judge grants restraining order allowing two transfer students to play basketball for Cordia

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJanuary 31, 2014 

A judge granted a temporary restraining order Friday that will allow two students at Cordia High School in Knott County to play basketball.

Richard Chapman Jr. and Josh Ortiz filed separate lawsuits against the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, which had declared them ineligible to play. Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate heard oral arguments during a special hearing on Thursday, and on Friday Wingate restrained the KHSAA from enforcing its final order withholding eligibilty from the two.

Wingate wrote in separate orders that Chapman and Ortiz will suffer irreparable harm by virtue of the KHSAA's refusal to permit them to participate.

As of Friday, each student "shall be considered eligible to participate in KHSAA-sanctioned basketball events and competitions," Wingate wrote.

That cleared the way for the two to play in Friday night's All "A" Classic in Frankfort. Both did get in the quarterfinal game against St. Mary. In Cordia's first-ever All "A" Classic appearance on Thursday, Cordia defeated Carroll County 72-42,

Cordia's basketball team is coached by Rodrick Rhodes, a former University of Kentucky standout, a former NBA player, and an experienced Division I college assistant.

Chapman Hopkins, the attorney representing the two students, said he shared the news with Rhodes and with Alice Whitaker, director of the Cordia School.

"They appeared ecstatic. I think there were some tears involved," Hopkins said. "It was a huge weight off their shoulders."

In a statement, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said the association will adhere to the requirements of the judge's order.

"That said, it is likely not possible for me to disagree more with the findings of the court in its order," Tackett said. "While it is inappropriate for this office to discuss the specific circumstances related to the matters of these students due to privacy concerns, we look forward to further judicial review.

"Clearly," Tackett continued, "situations such as this were intended to be regulated and restricted when the member schools passed the rules governing eligibility, and when those rules were approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky General Assembly. We will vigorously move forward with efforts related to these cases."

Chapman, 16, a junior, moved to Eastern Kentucky from Newark, N.J., while Ortiz, 17, a senior, moved from Harlem, N.Y. Both were in the custody of their fathers and both moved to Kentucky last summer.

At issue in the students' appeals of the KHSAA actions is a transfer rule that prohibits a student from participating in athletics at a new school in any sport for one year from the date of enrollment in the new school. Exceptions are made for students who move with their families before enrolling in the new school, students whose parent has died or whose parents are divorced, and students ordered to move in child protection cases.

The transfer rule is in place to fight a history of recruiting abuses. But in recent years, parents, legislators and some members of the Kentucky Board of Education have said the KHSAA has too much power; that its decisions are arbitrary and take too long; and that, ultimately, it finds too many children ineligible to play.

The hearing officer in each case found that the transfer was "in whole or in part athletically motivated." But Wingate said the facts in each case "are not conclusive."

Wingate also wrote that a KHSAA requirement that a student's entire family must move to meet eligibility requirements "presents a question that needs further examination by this court."

Last year, two other Cordia students — Canadian transfers Emmanuel Owootoah and Marlon King — were initially ruled to be ineligible, but both received injunctions that allowed them to play. Owootoah now plays for Fresno State.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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