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Judges disagree as to athlete's eligibility

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One Indiana Court of Appeals judge believed his colleagues strayed from the evidence of recruitment and instead focused the family's financial plight when they decided the high school athlete didn't transfer schools primarily for athletic reasons.

In Indiana High School Athletic Association Inc v. Jasmine S. Watson, individually and by and through her mother, Valerie K. Watson and South Bend Community School Corp., No. 71A03-0901-CV-25, Chief Judge John Baker and Judge Patricia Riley affirmed the trial court's finding that the Indiana High School Athletic Association acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it ruled Jasmine Watson was ineligible to play basketball at South Bend Washington High School after she transferred there just before her senior year. Her family claimed the transfer was caused by her mother's work hours being cut, the impending foreclosure of their home, and extended family living in South Bend. The majority also upheld the trial court's entering a preliminary injunction prohibiting the IHSAA from enforcing its decision.

The appellate court ruled on the decision, even though Jasmine has since graduated, because if they find she was ineligible, it could make Washington forfeit wins or awards, plus the IHSAA has filed a countersuit against the Watsons for damages, and that case has yet to be resolved.

Judge Ezra Friedlander dissented on several issues, including whether the trial court should have held an evidentiary hearing at which witnesses testified and evidence was introduced. He believed the trial court shouldn't have allowed for new evidence and should have just examined the record of proceedings before the IHSAA. The majority decided it wasn't in the position to second-guess the trial court's assessment of witness credibility and that the trial court permitted some evidence as relevant to the irreparable harm allegedly suffered as a result of the ineligibility ruling, not as relevant to the underlying merits of the case, Chief Judge Baker noted.

The trial court found much of the evidence relied on by the IHSAA was unsubstantiated hearsay or double hearsay because the organization failed to call witnesses to support the claims Jasmine and her mother had stated they were unhappy with her playing time at Elkhart and she was looking to go to Washington. The majority supported the decision to discount the evidence because the trial court found it to be incompetent. Judge Friedlander in his dissent claimed the testimony should have been allowed because it was "run-of-the-mill" hearsay and hearsay is permitted in an administrative proceeding as long as it is not objected to. The judge also believed the hearsay was deemed incompetent merely because it was hearsay.

Even taking into account the IHSAA evidence that Jasmine and her mother had spoken about transferring prior to her mother's work hours being cut, the majority focused on the family's financial situation as the primary reason they moved to South Bend.

"The IHSAA found Valerie's decision to be 'unusual,'" wrote Chief Judge Baker. "Perhaps it was, but only because she found herself in unusually trying circumstances."

Judge Friedlander believed the evidence supported the determination Jasmine was ineligible to play her senior year. The majority disagreed and affirmed the injunction placed by the trial court, ruling the injunction was not overbroad.

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