Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Athlete fights ban on playing

Says rule on transfers discriminates

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Alexandra Gross of Indian Hill
(Jeff Swinger photo)
INDIAN HILL - Alexandra Gross has been playing tennis since she was 10 years old. She was the area's player of the year in 2001 and ranked 12th in the Midwest last summer.

But the 17-year-old Indian Hill senior at Cincinnati Country Day School can't play on her high school team.

The reason: Because she transferred from another private school, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, the Ohio High School Athletic Association says she can't play sports for a year.

Gross and her new school say that's wrong.

"This is not about recruiting or displacing, it's about having fun my senior year," Gross said. "I just wanted to play a sport, but even if I can't, this is worth the fight so other students don't have to go through this."

In a lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Gross says the Ohio High School Athletic Association allows a student to play sports immediately after transferring from a private to a public school in the district where a guardian lives. But a student must sit out a year when transferring to another private school.

Not allowing her to play because she transferred to a private school "is unconstitutional because it treats two classes of citizens different - and that violates the equal protection clause of the Ohio Constitution," said Scott Phillips, who represents Cincinnati Country Day and Gross.

Gross knew about the rule before transferring. She hoped the association would make an exception. It didn't.

A request to allow her to play was denied Tuesday by Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Martin. The case is set for a hearing later this month.

"Students ought to be able to decide where they want to go to school independent of whether they can play athletics," said Jeff Clark, assistant head of Cincinnati Country Day School.

Deborah Moore, the association's assistant commissioner, testified that the association allows athletes to play right away if they switch from private to public school because there may be economic reasons for the move.

"The whole concept of the bylaw is to reduce changing of schools," Moore said. "We had complaints about recruiting and displacement, but it's not appropriate for students to be switching schools. It's not a matter of public versus private.''

She said a student also cannot transfer from one public school to another, unless a guardian moves. "Association members feel it's important to protect and maintain a level playing field," she said.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has a law similar to Ohio's. Indiana's High School Athletic Association looks at transfers on a case-by-case basis.

It's too late this year for Gross to play tennis, even though she practiced with the school's team and attended tournaments.

She said she doesn't regret transferring schools. "I love it at Cincinnati Country Day School," she said. "I couldn't be happier."


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