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Thursday, June 29, 2017: Incredible journey from Chicago to Toledo for WR

   Leading off today: Medina rising senior Jalin Cooper, one of Section 6's outstanding three-sport athletes, said Wednesday he will continue his football career at the University of Toledo, making him the 13th member of New York's Class of 2018 to make a Division I choice.

   Cooper had 11 Division I offers, including Rutgers and Washington State. Cooper was third-team all-state in Class B last season after scoring a team-leading 16 touchdowns and finishing with 1,213 all-purpose yards. He was sixth-team all-state in basketball and competed this month in the state track and field championships, placing in the top five in both Division 2 sprints.

   "It was kind of stressful with all these schools contacting me but it was a good stress," Cooper told The Buffalo News. "It's good feeling wanted."

   Cooper is not home-grown, and his journey from Chicago to Medina is a scary story of abuse within a dysfunctional and nomadic family. How he survived in a drug and gang culture is likely beyond the grasp of 98 percent of us, and trying to summarize his story here in just a few paragraphs would be futile.

   Suffice it to say that being taken in by teacher/coach Eric Hellwig's family after being abandoned by his mother in July 2014 was a huge change for the better.

   "I told Jason, if he wants to stay with us for a while, I have no problem with it," Eric Hellwig said.


"I just knew he wanted to be successful. And I truly believe that's why he left his house. Living there, he'd never be able to succeed."

   Physically, emotionally and academically, Cooper is maturing in ways unimaginable three years ago, but he acknowledges work remains.

   "I'm not done," he said. "I want to work so much more. If I can get a position on a college team, if I'm starting, if I get that position, it's just going to make me want it more."

   Non-decision decisions: If you follow the news closely in any other part of the state or merely casually in Western New York, you know that the hearings on the proposed removal of former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino from Buffalo's school board were Job One at the New York State Education Department in recent days.

   While testimony in that controversy was being taken and lawyers sparred, news was being made elsewhere in NYSED in the form of a documents release by the office of Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. As is often the case, rulings on several appeals were released all at the same time, and two in particular caught my eye and led me to rant a bit Tuesday on Twitter.

   Given 48 hours to reconsider my position, I'm not inclined to take back anything I said. I think the NYSED folks purposely punted on making decisions, using the "it's a moot point" copout in both instance. In the case of an Orchard Park football player, terming the appeal moot saved Elia from having to admit she erred last fall. In the case of a Walton boy seeking to play field hockey, I think she has handed future litigants a gift.

   And various sectional and state officials are left to scratch their heads over how to handle future appeals that land on their desks. They're going to be damned if they do, damned if they don't.

   Where to start?

   Last September, Elia ruled that fifth-year senior Jacob Kohler could practice and play for the Orchard Park football. Kohler's progress academically and socially had been hindered early in high school by autism, but participating in cross country and then football had been helpful in his maturation.

   Still, Section 6 had correctly ruled that he did not meet the criteria required for granting Kohler a fifth year of high school sports eligibility. For whatever reason -- and pressure from elected officials cannot be ruled out -- Kohler gave the go ahead for participation pending her final ruling at a future date.

  

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  •    As I predicted in September, that final ruling wasn't going to arrive before the end of the football season. When it did arrive last week (and made public this week), it turned out to be a non-decision decision.

       "The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest. ... Petitioner's request for relief concerns his son's participation in interscholastic football during the 2016-2017 school year. Since the 2016-2017 football season has concluded, the appeal must be dismissed as moot ...

       "In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties' remaining contentions."

       Separately last fall, sophomore Hunter Bosket alternated wins and losses in his bid to join the Walton field hockey team. He was green-lighted by an appeals panel, only to have his district superintendent decide that Bosket would not be allowed to play after all. There were solid points made by both sides and there seemingly existed enough doubt in the matter so that Bosket could have received the same sort of temporary approval from Elia that Kohler received.

       Instead, Elia turned down the request for interim relief a few days before the start of practice in August.

       When her verdict did arrive last week (and made public this week), it turned out to be a non-decision decision.

       "The appeal must be dismissed as moot. The Commissioner will only decide matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exist or which subsequent events have laid to rest. ... Petitioner's request for relief concerns her son's eligibility to participate on respondent's interscholastic field hockey team during the 2016-2017 field hockey season. Petitioner's request for interim relief was denied and the 2016-2017 field hockey season has ended. Consequently, the appeal is academic and is dismissed as moot. ... "

       "In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties' remaining contentions."

       Where have we heard that before?

       Among other factors noted in his decision to bench Bosket, Superintendent Roger Clough cited the boy's speed and endurance as potentially posing safety concerns. Those concerns are unlikely to diminish in the next two school years, but there's nothing preventing the Bosket family from going through the appeals process again anyway. If and when they do, all involved parties will start from scratch, the people who supported the boy's bid will likely do so again and those who opposed the bid will likely do so again.

       But do you know what probably won't happen? After exhausting its various appeals, the family likely won't appeal to the NYSED and instead proceed directly to civil court. State Supreme Court justices have been loathe to take eligibility cases that have not gone all the way through sectional, NYSPHSAA and NYSED appeals. But a competent attorney should be able to make the case that Elia's glacial pace in handling appeals and the subsequent rulings that the matter is moot are unfair to the athlete.

       And if it's not Hunter Bosket who's seeking to play, it will be some other student in some other sport in some other school district.


      
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