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Friday, Feb. 15, 2019: Wisconsin court ruling has officials worried

   Leading off today: A situation with close parallels to a case in New York has Wisconsin sports administrators and officiating representatives concerned that a dangerous precedent has been set.

   Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association officials envision the potential for a deluge of legal challenges as a result of a ruling last week by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Piontek that Waterford High School sophomore Hayden Halter can continue his wrestling season.

   Halter, a defending state champion, had been suspended over two misconduct infractions while winning his league title match Feb. 2. Piontek subsequently ruled that Halter's actions during the match were not worthy of suspension after reviewing video of the match and WIAA rules.

   At issue was the fashion in which Halter challenged the referee's call and then a post-match display in which he "primped," according to Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials. The two violations triggered the mandatory one-match suspension that should have barred Halter from a regional tournament the following weekend.

   An appeal of the restraining order may still be filed, but the judge's ruling cleared the way for Halter to win the regional tournament that was a step toward returning to the state tournament. Halter is scheduled to compete this weekend at the Division 1 sectional meet, the final step before the state championships.

   Most troubling to the WIAA is that there is no provision in the organization's rules to allow its referees to use video reviews in any sport in any situation. Piontek reviewed video shot by the wrestler's mother from the bleachers before determining Halter didn't deserve to be suspended.

   "Imagine how many aggrieved parents/fans will now consider using the court system to challenge a referee's judgment call," Mano wrote in a newspaper commentary. "What will be coming our way will be this: often quite ordinary and mundane calls by sports officials will be subject to litigation brought by upset fans/parents."

   He added: "Judge Piontek became the replay official, where replay is not permitted, and chose to override the decision of the official on the mat."

   Mano also suggested that high-stakes second-guessing will make it even tougher to recruit new referees for high school sports.

   The New York connection: The Wisconsin wrestling dispute is especially relevant to New York observers because it closely matches the sequence of events surrounding Rocky Point wrestler Kristopher Ketchum, who was reinstated from suspension by a court ruling last week in time to qualify for the Section 11 tournament and on Wednesday was awarded an at-large berth in next week's NYSPHSAA individual championships in Albany.

   Ketchum was disqualified from a tournament Jan. 17, triggering a one-match suspension that would have derailed him from the qualifying process for the NYSPHSAA tournament. A lawsuit on his behalf against Section 11 resulted in the promise of a quick hearing, but not reinstatement. (Note: That hearing in State Supreme Court was scheduled for Wednesday, but I have not seen any mention of it actual being held.) In response, the family's attorney successfully petitioned the Appellate Division Second Department in Brooklyn to issue a stay that allowed him to resume competing.


   I'm certainly not a lawyer, but I believe Ketcham might still be facing an uphill battle in the courtroom because there is precedent in State Supreme Court for upholding suspensions mandated by the NYSPHSAA handbook.

   Last June, State Supreme Court Justice Scott Odorisi dismissed a case brought by a Red Creek parent challenging the rule regarding player suspensions, saying courts are not the forum for settling sports issues.

   "Courts are valuable tools to resolve disputes," Odorisi wrote in his decision, "but they should not be transformed into a Replay Command Center or GameDay Central for every school, or even recreational, sporting squabble."

   He went on to say judicial involvement would be impossible in light of the number of games played daily and the number of difficult rulings officials are asked to make in each.

   "Litigation of any and all referee calls would be disastrous to the orderly administration of the school sports system," he added.

   Odorisi's ruling was the result of a girls basketball ejection. Red Creek freshman Izzy Wilbur was ejected after a late-game incident, triggering the one game suspension that should have benched her from the Section 5 semifinals.

   The Wilbur family successfully sought an injunction allowing her to play in the season-ending semifinal loss.

   Aside from not wanting the courts system to be used to resolve high school sports disputes, Odorisi noted that the NYSPHSAA should have been named as a defendant in the initial filing, a frequent oversight in court cases that typically derails or at least delays lawsuits. Had that been caught in the original court filing, the Wilbur family would not have had time to re-file before she served her suspension.

   Ketcham star reaches 2,000: Guard Katie Wall went over 2,000 career points midway through the fourth quarter Thursday as Roy C. Ketcham earned a 77-52 win over Carmel in girls basketball.

   "This is unbelievable," she said after a 31-point performance. "It's an incredible feeling. The best feeling in the world."

   Boys basketball: Guard Jaden DeJesus scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter to spark Knox School to a 76-64 victory over evangel Christian 76-64 for its second straight PSAA championship Thursday.

   Knox outscored Evangel 26-11 in the third quarter after going into halftime trailing by 10 points. Knox took a 48-47 lead with 1:17 left in the third period and never trailed again.

    • Freshman Roddy Gayle led the way with 29 points as Lewiston-Porter surprised Niagara Falls 75-71.

   Niagara Falls is ranked sixth in the state in Class AA and Lew-Port 25th in Class A this week.

   Junior Jack Bernstein made five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points.

   Track coach dies: Bob Higgins, an assistant coach for the St. Anthony's boys track and field team for 11 years, died of brain cancer Monday. He was 57.

   Higgins, who ran for St. Anthony's and Harvard, began coaching around the time he retired from his family's business. Higgins' primary responsibility with the Friars was working with the middle-distance runners.

   Extra points (literally): Auburn hockey senior Johnny Malandruccolo broke the program's career points record during a 4-1 win against New Hartford last week. His two goals and an assist left him at 228 points.

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