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Out Of State Students From U.S. Territories Not Eligible For Athletics, According To OHSAA

In the case of Nelsons v. Ohio High School Athletic Assn., 2018-Ohio-4169, an Ohio appellate court upheld the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s (“OHSAA”) decision not to allow an out-of-state student to participate in athletics because the student was from a United States territory and his legal guardians had not moved to Ohio with the student.

This case involved a student who was born in New York, but moved to, and was raised in, the U.S. Virgin Islands with his parents. In 2016, the student moved to Ohio to live with an Ohio family for undisclosed reasons. The family petitioned for guardianship of the student, which was granted. After living with the family for over one year, the student expressed his desire to participate in athletics in high school and the student sought permission from OHSAA to do so. OHSAA’s eligibility bylaws state that any students whose parents reside outside Ohio are ineligible for athletics. There are two exceptions to this bylaw: 1) the student’s current legal guardian has been his guardian for at least one year and moved to Ohio with the student and 2) the student’s parents are U.S. citizens who live outside the United States.  OHSAA declared the student did not satisfy either of these exceptions because the student’s guardians were already living in Ohio when he moved and because the student’s parents live in the Virgin Islands, which is a U.S. territory.

The guardians sought a court order to stop OHSAA from applying its exceptions in this manner.  Specifically, the guardians stated that the first exception was unreasonable because it would prevent the student from ever being eligible for athletics simply because the family was already living in Ohio. Additionally, the guardians stated that OHSAA should not be allowed to consider U.S. territories in its definition of the U.S.

The Ohio appellate court sided with OHSAA, determining that the actions of voluntary associations, such as OHSAA, are “final and conclusive and will not be reviewed by the courts in the absence of arbitrariness, fraud, or collusion.” Because there was no evidence of arbitrariness, fraud, or collusion presented, the court determined these were irrelevant. As a result, the Ohio appellate court refused to intervene with OHSAA’s decision.

Therefore, OHSAA rulings will generally be final and binding unless schools/students can show clear violations of arbitrariness, fraud, or collusion.

To read this case, please click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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