OLIVE BRANCH, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled a high school athlete can challenge a decision that barred him from playing football for Olive Branch High School.
The ruling came Thursday in a lawsuit filed by the family of Ross Trail. The case now returns to DeSoto County Chancery Court.
The family sued after the Mississippi High School Activities Association found Trail ineligible for the 2013 season because proper residency had not been established in DeSoto County.
Consideration of the case was delayed while MHSAA sought a Supreme Court decision on whether Trail had standing to challenge its decision.
Trail transferred from Wynne, Arkansas, in January of 2013 and lived with his father, former University of Memphis quarterback Rusty Trail, in Olive Branch. Trail's mother and sister stayed in Wynne.
That, the MHSAA said, was not a bona fide move to the Mississippi school district.
Records show Trail played his junior year at Olive Branch and returned to Arkansas to play his senior season.
In its 5-4 decision, a majority of the Supreme Court said while MHSAA argued its purpose is only to govern relations between its member schools, its rules on the eligibility of student athletes indicate otherwise.
"MHSAA's intent to benefit individual student athletes also is manifested in MHSAA's policy of sanctioning member schools any time an individual student challenges MHSAA in court and loses. This rule, which is just one part of MHSAA's elaborate eligibility rules, undermines MHSAA's claim that students do not have standing to challenge its eligibility determinations in court.
"All of MHSAA's eligibility rules are intended to benefit the student athletes, and student athletes have standing to challenge adverse eligibility determinations," Presiding Justice Jess Dickinson wrote in the majority opinion.
Justice Randy Pierce, in a dissent joined by three other justices, said the majority decision elevates "the privilege of participating in interscholastic athletics to a right."
"The majority creates the ability for a student athlete to contest any adverse decision that affects the student's playing status, whether it involves team rule violations or coaching decision.
"Though elementary, it must be pointed out that MHSAA has no capability whatsoever to physically restrain a student athlete from participating in interscholastic activities. The only enforcement power MHSAA has is the power to sanction for violations of its rules and regulations, which, again, the member schools through rotating school representatives institute." Pierce said.
Pierce and the dissenting justices said there must be penalties, including loss of eligibility, if rules are broken.