CLARKSTON, Mich. – A ruling from the Michigan High School Athletic Association is sparking controversy after a player was ruled ineligible to play his senior season.
Thomas Kithier was told he couldn't play basketball after transferring from Macomb Dakota High School to Clarkston High School. MHSAA said it's an athletically motivated move, which is a violation of its rules.
But now Kithier has lined up some top lawyers to fight for him.
The Clarkston boy's basketball team is exceptional, so Kithier's decision to transfer there and play for the team got plenty of attention.
"This is bigger than Thomas at this point," Clarkston Athletic Director Jeff Kosin said.
Clarkston boy's basketball coach Dan Fife said he has never seen a case like this one in his 36 years as a coach.
"It felt like we had the Thomas Kithier rules and we had the rest of the kids that transfer rules," Fife said.
The story began a few months ago when Kithier decided to transfer from Macomb Dakota to Clarkston, and both schools had to sign a transfer form.
"We had the OK from Macomb Dakota, from their principal, that they would indeed sign the form," Kosin said.
But Macomb Dakota didn't sign the form, saying Kithier's decision was athletically motivated. MHSAA said in a statement that the allegation was confirmed, and that Kithier couldn't play because transferring for athletics is against the rules.
Clarkston appealed the decision, but Clarkston Principal Gary Kaul said it's up to the family now.
"It may be up to the family to take matters into their own hands," Kaul said.
The family hired a pair of big-time lawyers to fight the case.
"They could care less about this kid, and that is wrong," lawyer Steve Fishman said.
The lawyers are taking the case free of charge, hoping to get Kithier on the court soon.
"We're not looking for money, not looking to hang them out to dry, just want him to be treated fairly," Fishman said.
The MHSAA said Kithier did an interview with a media outlet and said he wanted to play with another basketball player at Clarkston High School who will also be at Michigan State next year. Officials said that showed the transfer was athletically motivated.
Clarkston officials sand Kithier's lawyer said the comments were taken out of context, and that Kithier meant he was looking forward to playing with the other player at Michigan State, not Clarkston.
Here is a statement from Rob Roberts, the superintendent of Chippewa Valley Schools, which includes Macomb Dakota High School:
"Our top concern and number one priority has been, and continues to be, the education of our students. Our core mission is preparing students for careers and jobs through our award-winning programs that promote a well-rounded education, including academics, the arts and athletics.
"As a member of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA), we are required to follow the rules ensuring every player meets the eligibility requirements set forth by the MHSAA. The MHSAA has rules in place intended to protect student athletes and non-athletes and preserve the integrity of sports programs, so high school sports have a buffer from some of the enormous pressure found in sports at higher levels.
"Whether or not any school supports the MHSAA rules or the rationale behind them is irrelevant. These rules are not “optional.” They are required and binding on all schools that are members. Now is the time for our community to come together and focus on what matters most: providing a world-class education for students so they can compete for jobs.
"Thomas Kithier is an outstanding student and athlete, and we wish him and his family all the best in the future."
Here is additional information from MHSAA about the decision:
In order to bring additional understanding to a recently publicized transfer of a high-profile basketball player between member high schools, the MHSAA is providing the following pertinent facts in understanding the matter of the 12th grader’s transfer to Clarkston High School from Macomb Dakota.
- The student’s change of residence during the summer of 2017 was on his own – without his parents – to a condominium in Clarkston. This made him ineligible at Clarkston until Jan. 15, 2018, without the completion of an Educational Transfer Form signed by principals from both Clarkston and Dakota High School.
- An Educational Transfer Form is required for transfers that meet three exceptions to the MHSAA Transfer Rule: 1. Change of residence by a student between the homes of divorced parents or parents who never married; 2. Change of residence by an 18-year-old who moves without his parents; 3. Change of residence to a boarding school. This basketball player is 18 years old. The Educational Transfer Form requires both school principals to certify that the transfer is “not significantly related to or motivated by athletics.” The student’s previous school did not complete the form.
- The student’s previous school then made a formal allegation that the transfer was primarily for athletic reasons and that the student should be ineligible for a total of 180 scheduled school days under the Athletic Motivated Transfer Regulation.
- Clarkston had opportunities to respond to the Dakota allegation, and did so. The allegation was then confirmed by the MHSAA Executive Director. Clarkston appealed to the MHSAA Executive Committee, which confirmed that the transfer was primarily for athletic reasons.
- In neither Clarkston’s written appeal nor its presentation to the Executive Committee has it been stated that the family has made a full and complete change of residence into the Clarkston school district. The mother’s affidavit of Nov. 13, 2017, attested that she and her husband did not reside in Clarkston with their son, but in Macomb, Mich. Under the Athletic Motivated Transfer Regulation, a full subsequent move by the family would not reduce the 180-day period of ineligibility.
- The MHSAA office found that Clarkston had not partaken in undue influence (recruiting) to secure the transferring athlete. This point was acknowledged by the school itself in writing on Nov. 14. It was reiterated when the MHSAA handed down the Executive Committee decision earlier this week.
- The Athletic Motivated Transfer Regulation has been in effect since 1997.
You can watch Koco McAboy's full story in the video posted above.