Two high school basketball teams kicked out of Indiana's state basketball tournament after a bench-clearing brawl have been allowed back in that tournament by a Lake County judge.
Lake Civil Court Judge John R. Pera heard five hours of testimony Monday before issuing a temporary restraining order that permits the Hammond and Griffith boys basketball teams into the Class 3A Hammond Sectional, which begins Thursday.
The Indiana High School Athletics Association had canceled the schools' remaining boys basketball seasons and imposed other sanctions after the Feb. 7 brawl involving players from both teams. After IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox handed down those penalties Feb. 10, both schools appealed. But last week, the IHSAA's Review Committee upheld Cox's original ruling.
The schools sought the restraining order because similar incidents at other Indiana schools resulted in less-severe penalties, mostly one-game suspensions and/or one year of probation.
Students and administrators from both schools who testified Monday said they don't condone the players' actions and are collectively sorry for the brawl, The (Munster) Times reported.
During the game in question, Griffith was leading 4-0 when a Hammond player shoved a Griffith player from behind as he tried to score and sent him headfirst into a mat on the wall. Players and coaches from both teams rushed onto the floor, along with some spectators, and pushing, shoving and some punches were exchanged, the IHSAA said. Officials called the game off, and the IHSAA said Griffith police were called to help restore order.
Griffith senior Anthony Harris, who spoke of his sadness in missing Senior Night, said colleges who were recruiting him had backed off since the brawl.
"I don't condone fighting. I wish it had never happened," he told the court.
Attorney Mike Jasaitis, who represented Hammond High School, said he's thrilled with the judge's decision and is glad that the players "will have the opportunity to demonstrate that the actions of that evening shouldn't forever define their season."
Jared Tauber, who helped represent Griffith in court, said the two schools had been punished more severely than what IHSAA bylaws call for.
Cox said Monday that the IHSAA had not decided whether it would appeal the order. He said he's disappointed the judge ruled against what most of the members of the high school sports governing body had told him they wanted.
In the revised Class 3A Hammond Sectional, Griffith will play against Lighthouse on Thursday and Hammond plays Bowman Academy on Friday. The championship game is Monday.