Arkansas multiplier challenged in court

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

LITTLE ROCK -- High school football players, coaches and fans will have to wait for a Pulaski County judge to rule on a lawsuit before they'll know if games scheduled for this fall's season will actually be played, and the judge isn't saying when she might rule.

The father of a four-sport athlete at Arkansas Baptist asked Circuit Judge Mary McGowan on Monday to set aside an Arkansas Activities Association decision altering high school sports schedules this year because his son's school must compete against much-larger schools.

"My son's going to get hurt and I resent that," Gary Holt said as he sought a temporary injunction that would change high school football schedules less than a month before the start of the season.

Holt says that, for no good reason, the AAA increased a multiplier used to balance perceived inequities between public and private schools. In the 2006-07 seasons, he said, Arkansas Baptist must travel much farther to play teams that are much larger.

"When the team across from you has twice as many players, how is that a level playing field?" Holt asked rhetorically. Holt said his son's team will likely have 25 players while its opponents in Conference 4A-7 would likely have 50 or 60.

McGowan asked for additional information -- including closing arguments -- and set a deadline for today. She also asked Holt's lawyer to "put in writing what relief the client is seeking from the court."

The judge set no timetable for a ruling on the request for an injunction.

AAA members voted 187-30 last year to multiply private school enrollment by 1.75 when setting classifications for sports teams. The AAA had previously multiplied enrollment by 1.35.

"They had no basis, they just pulled a number out of the air," Holt told McGowan.

But AAA executive director Lance Taylor, on the stand for more than an hour, said the association's aim is to administer athletics rules in a fair and impartial manner after its members schools authorize them. "We're always trying to make things fair for all students," Taylor said under questioning by Kenneth Shemin, Holt's lawyer.

AAA schools alter private school enrollment figures to address concerns that private schools benefit from not having attendance zones and because they have higher sports participation rates than public schools. Adjusting the figures means private schools are in leagues with larger schools.

Holt wants to prevent the new classifications and conference assignments from taking effect.

The high school football season starts in four weeks.

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