Six years later, state still in litigation

Published 10:34 pm Thursday, August 12, 2004

By By SCOTT NOVAK / Niles Daily Star
STEVENSVILLE - A media luncheon at the Fireside Inn Restaurant started out as an informal discussion with John "Jack" Roberts, executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, but it didn't end up that way.
After discussing such light topics as what the MHSAA can do better to help the media with coverage of high school athletics, the topic turned serious and passionate when Roberts was asked about the on-going litigation the state is currently involved in.
Since 1998, the MHSAA has been involved in a gender equity case that involves the switching of high school basketball and volleyball seasons for girls.
On July 27, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, said that the MHSAA's sports seasons were unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit reaffirmed a Dec. 17, 2001 U.S. District Court ruling that said that Michigan must change some of its sports seasons.
In particular, girls' basketball and volleyball.
The original lawsuit back in 1998 wanted to put all boys and girls sports in the same seasons. That would have affected basketball, golf, soccer, tennis and swimming and diving. The lawsuit also asked that volleyball be moved from its current season, fall, to the winter.
The MHSAA was successful in getting the District Court to limit the change to basketball being played in the same season for boys and girls.
However, the court also ordered the MHSAA to change the seasons for girls and boys in the lower peninsula in golf and tennis.
Following the July 27 decision in the Sixth Circuit Court, the MHSAA's Representative Council met in a special meeting and unanimously voted to move forward with the appeal.
Roberts added that there are other issues involved with this case that go beyond the switching of seasons.
The biggest, and perhaps the one that could change the future of athletics in Michigan is whether or not sports is a privilege or a right.
Roberts and the MHSAA cannot believe that a court could rule that students have a constitutional right to play sports at a certain time of year.
(First in a two-part series. On Friday Roberts examines where the state will go from here.)