Basketball star Zion Harmon won’t play at Marshall County High School unless the Marshals make the Sweet Sixteen.
Harmon, a 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard who was an All-State selection in 2017 and 2018, was denied an appeal for an injunction and immediate eligibility by a federal judge in Paducah on Friday. WPSD reporter Adam Wells first reported the decision by Judge Thomas Russell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
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Russell heard arguments from the Harmon family and the Kentucky High School Athletic Association on Jan. 3. Harmon was ruled ineligible to play at Marshall County on Aug. 15 after enrolling at the western Kentucky high school in June, and was later denied an appeal in November. Harmon’s family filed a civil complaint against the KHSAA in early December and asked the Marshall Circuit Court to grant an injunction that would allow Harmon to be eligible immediately. The KHSAA later in December requested that Harmon’s eligibility case be moved to federal court in Paducah.
Marshall County Coach Terry Birdsong and Mike Harmon, Zion’s father, did not return calls and messages from the Herald-Leader.
KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett issued a statement related to the case to The Paducah Sun’s Al Willman on Friday.
“We received word on Friday that the request for relief in a case involving a student at Marshall County High School had been denied by the Federal Court,” Tackett said. “I don’t consider this a victory or loss as it is a preliminary decision of the Court and the matter is still essentially ongoing. When our membership adopts rules to govern all 280 schools, and they are properly put into place, I feel the members expect application and defense of those rules. We will continue to monitor future developments in the matter. We as always, will abide by and respect any judicial order and follow the applicable processes in our efforts to uphold the expectations of the membership.”
Wells reported that the Harmons’ attorney, Chip Adams, asked for another hearing in the case if Harmon were to be denied an injunction, but it is unclear if that will be granted. As it stands, Harmon will not be eligible to play for Marshall County until one year from the date of his last participation in a KHSAA basketball event — March 5, 2018, when he played for Adair County in the 5th Region semifinals.
That means Harmon would not be eligible to play this season until the Sweet Sixteen, which begins on March 6. Boys’ region tournaments, barring inclement weather, are supposed to be completed by no later than March 2. Marshall County, rated sixth among 1st Region teams in the most recent Cantrall Ratings, was 8-9 entering a game at Graves County on Friday night.
The KHSAA’s Bylaw 6 states all varsity athletes must sit out one year from their last game played in a varsity sport after transferring. There are nine exceptions listed in Section 2 the bylaw under which the KHSAA can immediately re-instate eligibility to a transfer student. Those exceptions “shall not be considered valid” if the KHSAA determines that a transfer met one of seven specific criteria listed under Section 3 of the bylaw.
The Harmon family in its civil complaint said that Tackett determined that the Harmon family made “a bona fide change in residence” — one of the nine exceptions in Section 2 that allow for reinstatement of eligibility — but that the family’s move was motivated “in part or in part by a desire to participate in athletics at the new school” — one of the seven criteria in Section 3.
Marshall County is the fourth high school in which Harmon has enrolled in as many seasons. He played for Lighthouse Christian in Tennessee as a seventh-grader before the next year transferring to Bowling Green, where he helped the Purples win their first state title. He averaged 32.7 points per game as a freshman last season at Adair County.