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Prep athlete suing UHSAA

Published: Thursday, Oct. 27 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

HIGHLAND — A high school basketball player filed suit Wednesday against the Utah High School Activities Association for their decision to deny him a hardship waiver that would have allowed him to play prep sports this year.

Junior Eric Mika and his parents requested a hardship waiver from a UHSAA hearing panel last month. That would have allowed Mika, who was an all-state center for Waterford last year, to play basketball at Lone Peak High this season.

But the panel found that the circumstances of Mika's case did not constitute a hardship and therefore ruled him ineligible to participate in any UHSAA sanction sports for one year from the date of transfer.

Mika asked for the hardship based on the fact that commuting to Waterford, a private school in Sandy, every day from his home in Alpine, where he's lived for seven years, had become a safety and health issue for the teen.

His parents said that because he wanted to attend seminary, which was only offered at 6:50 a.m., he was dealing with 12 to 15 hour days during basketball season. Waterford only has one gym and the boys often practiced in the evenings to accommodate other sports, including girls basketball.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Matthew Evans, called the panel's decision "arbitrary and capricious" and said the transfer wasn't for athletic reasons, but was "instead concerned for his health and safety."

"Eric has a legally protectable interest in having the transfer rule fairly applied to him, and therefore is entitled to a declaratory judgment from this court that UHSAA's decision was arbitrary and capricious, that Eric's circumstances satisfy the requirements necessary for a hardship waiver under the UHSAA's transfer rule and that Eric is eligible to play basketball and other UHSAA-sponsored sports for Lone Peak during the 2011-2012," Evans wrote.

UHSAA officials were surprised by the lawsuit.

"I'm disappointed that they decided to sue the association," said UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner. "We provided them a fair and impartial hearing. The panel determined on the evidence that it received that (the family) had not proven a hardship. We believe our rule is not only fair, but they had a fair hearing. We'll defend our rule and the decision."

In addition to suing for the right to play sports, the Mikas are asking a judge to grant a preliminary injunction that would prevent the UHSAA from enforcing the panel's decision until a judge can rule on the suit.

During Mika's hardship hearing, his parents said the transfer was in the best interest of their son's health and well-being.

"We didn't go around cherry-picking schools," said Ron Mika. "We enrolled him at the school where we live. Waterford is more than 20 miles from our home; Lone Peak is 4 miles from our home."

Van Wagoner said the transfer rules define a hardship as "an unforeseeable, unavoidable, and uncorrectable act, condition, or event, which causes the imposition of a severe and non-athletic burden upon the student and/or his/her family."

Van Wagoner said they would also seek to move the case to Salt Lake County as that's where the UHSAA offices are located and where the decision was rendered.

EMAIL: adonaldson@desnews.com

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