Thursday, December 27, 2001
State Constitution Doesn’t Guarantee Right to Play School Sports—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Constitution’s guarantee of free public schooling doesn’t entitle a student to play interscholastic sports, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. One Monday affirmed a San Diego Superior Court verdict in favor of the California Interscholastic Federation, rejecting Australian transfer student John Ryan’s claims for money damages. Ryan sued after the CIF’s San Diego Section ruled that wasn’t eligible to play basketball or football for Rancho Buena Vista High School.
The CIF held that Ryan wasn’t eligible because he had already attended eight semesters of high school in his home country, and because CIF rules require that a student who transfers schools without a corresponding change of residence on the part of his family must wait 12 months before playing varsity sports.
Ryan is the younger brother of Steve Ryan, whose hopes of attending the University of Colorado on athletic scholarship were dashed when the NCAA denied him full credit for the school courses he took in Australia. To avoid his brother’s predicament, John Ryan completed his 12th grade coursework in Australia, then opted to repeat his senior year at Rancho Buena Vista.
He won a writ of mandamus from San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill, who held that the CIF failed to consider a waiver of the transfer rule and that it lacked substantial evidence for its determination that Ryan only wanted to repeat 12th grade in order to play sports.
When the CIF later ruled him ineligible again, this time on the ground that Rancho Buena Vista had recruited him as an athlete in violation of a CIF by-law, he went back to court and obtained another writ of mandate, this one from Judge Ronald Prager, but the ruling didn’t come until three years after he enrolled.
The judges awarded a total of $130,000 in attorney fees for the two mandate proceedings, under the private-attorney-general provisions of Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1021.5. But jurors rejected Ryan’s claims that he suffered grievous injury, including loss of an athletic scholarship to attend college, incurred medical bills upon being diagnosed with depression and suffered damage to his reputation.
In affirming the judgment, the Court of Appeal rejected Ryan’s contention that his rights to a free public education and due process of law were violated.
Justice Terry O’Rourke explained:
“Ryan has a constitutional right to a free public education that includes free extracurricular activities when offered by public school districts. However, he does not have a statutorily conferred right to participate in those activities, to be on a specific athletic team, to act in a particular play, to represent the school on an academic team subject to deprivation only following constitutional procedural due process. Rather, the constitutional free school guarantee...has simply been interpreted...to extend to all public offered educational extracurricular activities....In other words, students cannot be denied the right to participate in extracurricular activities sponsored by public high school districts because of an inability to pay a fee.”
A high school student, O’Rourke went on to say, has no constitutionally protectable liberty or property interest in playing sports. The CIF, like any organization governing extracurricular activities, has a right to establish eligibility criteria, the justice said.
While affirming the judgment in favor of the CIF on the damage claims, the panel dismissed its appeals from the mandamus orders as moot. But the justices threw out the attorney fee awards, holding that the mandamus rulings did not benefit large numbers of students or confer benefits on other students disproportionate to the benefits to Ryan.
The consolidated appeals, both styled Ryan v. California Interscholastic Federation, appear at 01 S.O.S. 6062 and 6077.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company